post card of the Carnegie Public Library in Hendersonville, NC

February: It’s Library Lovers Month

I’ve been a library lover since my Aunt Ercelle introduced me to the Henderson County Public Library when I was 11 years old. My most prized possession is still a library card. And like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, I’ve been known to swoon over a stately room with book-filled shelves.

Because February is “Library Lovers Month,” I’m paying tribute to possibly the world’s greatest library lover: Andrew Carnegie. A native of Scotland, Carnegie was 12 when his family immigrated to the United States in 1848 and settled in the industrial town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Andrew couldn’t attend school because he had to help support his family. He could read, but books were expensive. And like most cities of the time, Pittsburgh didn’t have a public library.

Through delivering telegrams, Andrew met Colonel James Anderson, a local businessman, who opened his private library to “working boys” on Saturday afternoons. An avid reader, Andrew was a frequent visitor. At age 17, Andrew became a telegraph operator with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. He began investing his savings in oil, iron, steel, and railroads and built Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Steel Company. By age 35, he was one of the richest people in America.

Believing wealth should be shared, Carnegie turned his attention to philanthropy. He had never forgotten the Colonel’s kindness or his own love for reading and learning. Public libraries became one of his many charitable projects. Between 1883 and 1929, more than 2,500 Carnegie libraries were built globally. If a community agreed to provide the site, buy books, pay staff, operate a library, and make it free to all, then Carnegie would donate the money to build it.

About two-thirds of Carnegie’s public libraries are in the United States. Ten were built in North Carolina. And though no longer used as a library, one of them still stands in Henderson County.

picture of Elliot Carnegie Library in Hickory, N.C. A brick building with white colums
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the ca.1922 Elliott-Carnegie Library in Hickory, NC, was the last public library in North Carolina to receive a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. Image taken by Tylerg and on Wikimedia


Opened in 1914 at 330 N. King St. in Hendersonville, the squat, brick library was expanded in 1961 but needed an even larger space. County commissioners bought property at 301 N. Washington St. in Hendersonville in 1967 and began constructing a new library building the next year. It opened for business in 1970. Other repurposed Carnegie public libraries are seen in Hickory, Murphy, Rutherford College, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Durham. The libraries in Andrews and Charlotte were demolished to make way for larger, more modern facilities.

Cover Image: Carnegie Public Library, Hendersonville, North Carolina. Postcard. Sjoerd Koopman Library Postcard Collection, Illinois Library Digital Collection. 

Related Topics: