Wealthy industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built an astounding 1,689 libraries around the United States — plus 660 in the UK, 125 in Canada, and 35 in other countries around the world — between 1883 and 1929.
Preservationist blogger Susie Trexler wrote recently about the rich variation in architectural styles among Carnegie libraries in California, Oregon, and Washington. I was surprised to see how different from each other these libraries looked — because as I’ve encountered a handful of Carnegie libraries in my travels along Indiana’s old roads, what I’ve noticed is how similar they look. They all have some characteristics in common: prominent entrances, compact dimensions, brick construction, and usually pitched clay-tile roofs.
The first Carnegie library I ever encountered was along the Michigan Road in Greensburg. But I didn’t know what I was looking at. I just thought it was a compact City Hall building.
I drove through again a few months later to find the City Hall sign gone, revealing what you see below. (The town built a new City Hall elsewhere.) I’d not heard of Andrew Carnegie’s libraries then. Seeing this sent me to the Internet to research. That’s when I learned that Carnegie’s efforts saw 167 libraries built in Indiana between 1901 and 1918.
Since I took these photos, this Carnegie Library has been converted into a private residence.
Interestingly, the Greensburg Carnegie library is nestled into this corner. The Michigan Road is on the left. All of the other Carnegie libraries I’ve found around the state are parallel with their streets.
This Carnegie “Pvblic Library” stands on the Michigan Road in tiny Kirklin. Notice the addition out back, which was built in 2001. I like how its style reasonably harmonizes, but I wish they’d taken greater care to match the brick.
It’s still the town’s library. Here’s another photo of the Kirklin library, just because I like this shot.
I found this Carnegie library on US 50 in downtown North Vernon. It is said to have been one of the last two Carnegie libraries built in Indiana. It was vacant for years, but was repurposed as North Vernon’s Town Hall in 2012.
You’ll find this Carnegie library on the square in Paoli, on the Dixie Highway in southern Indiana. (This is the same town that lost its 1880 iron bridge last month thanks to a woefully inexperienced semi driver.) This is the smallest Carnegie library I’ve found in Indiana. My memory is that this building was being used as a day care or preschool at the time I took this photo, but I hear the building is vacant today.
Here’s the Carnegie library in Sheridan, a small town north of Indianapolis. As best as I can tell, it’s vacant, but owned by an architect who is looking for a buyer who can put it to appropriate use. I really enjoy the look of this one.
Finally, here is the Carnegie library in Knightstown, east of Indianapolis on the National Road (US 40). It’s the only one I’ve found so far without a pitched roof. It appears to still be the town’s library.
There you have it: all the Carnegie libraries I’ve found across the state. Clearly, six out of 167 is hardly a representative sample: that’s just 3.6 percent of them! Maybe I need to make a focus of future road trips to visit them all across the state. In researching for this post, I discovered that the community center building two blocks from my church is a Carnegie library! I can start there. Until then, I can rely on Wikipedia’s list of Indiana Carnegie libraries.
I do have one more Carnegie library in my photo archive: this one, in Greenup, IL, on the National Road (US 40).
Such a different look from any of the ones I’ve photographed in Indiana!