MAY 23, 2015
Edgartown’s Carnegie Library
In 1904, the town of Edgartown received two major gifts: $4,000 from the American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie (pictured at right) and $1,000 from an Edgartown resident, Mrs. Caroline F. Warren (her portrait, below, hangs in the library entrance). From these funds, the committee paid contractor William W. King $4,774.75 to construct the new library. The site for the new library was a gift from Caroline F. Warren.
Mr. Carnegie, sometimes called the “patron saint of libraries,” gave more than $56 million between 1881 and the early 1920s – that’s more than $1 billion in today’s dollars – for the construction of public libraries throughout the English-speaking world. In the United States alone, he was responsible for the building of 1,681 libraries at a cost of $41.2 million.
Across New England, 85 libraries were built with gifts from Mr. Carnegie. In his 1920 autobiography, Mr. Carnegie wrote: “It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library in a community.”
Mr. Carnegie’s $4,000 gift to Edgartown came with a stipulation: that the town commit one-tenth of that sum for the library’s annual operating expenses. This was a leap for Edgartown, which had spent $128.89 to run the library in 1903.
Mr. Carnegie didn't ask for his name to be emblazoned over the entrance to the library, or inscribed on a plaque inside. But one of his favorite symbols was the rising sun, which expressed his belief that the public library embodied the dawn of knowledge. That symbol is used in the detail of the large windows at the front of the Edgartown Library -- you can see it in the logo at the top of this page.
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The first report from the library board appeared in the town’s annual report for calendar year 1914. Wrote the trustees: “The home circulation of books for the past year has been 6,125, an increase of 25 per cent over that of the previous year. There have been added to the library 225 volumes. The reading room is supplied with the following magazines: Harper’s, Scribner’s, Review of Reviews, Scientific American, Youth’s Companion, St. Nicholas, and Our Dumb Animals. “We are crowded for shelf room, every available space being used.”
The brick Carnegie building has been expanded upon three times over the years: with the addition of 836 square feet in 1937, another 200 square feet in the 1950s, and finally a 5,000-square-foot expansion in 1975. This brings the Edgartown Public Library to a total usable area of 6,842 square feet.