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The Munificent Gift

Categories: 150 Years of Libraries,Blogs

Andrew Carnegie circa 1880

Andrew Carnegie circa 1880


Industrialist Andrew Carnegie established the Carnegie Library Fund to create libraries around the country. In 1900, a library committee in Jackson applied. Funding was calculated on a strict formula based on population. The city agreed to purchase the necessary land and provide annual operating funds. Carnegie generously awarded Jackson $50,000, but “JACKSON WANTED A LIBRARY LIKE NONE OTHER.”

Plans went over budget by $20,000.


 

Old Friends

Mrs. R. H. ( Zelie) Emerson, a member of the Jackson Library Committee, wrote Carnegie, via his secretary, asking for the additional funds to “build the building Jackson deserves.”

Mr. Bertram, The current Library is located on the second floor of a good block on a business street, about in the center of the town. There is no elevator. Its quarters are pleasant, but as it occupies the whole floor; there is no chance of expansion. The book space is cramped, and the reading-room entirely too small for the growing attendance of the public-especially the children who are there in great numbers. The reason my previous letter was not typewritten is that it is in a way a personal letter to Mr. Carnegie. We were old friends in Pittsburgh years ago. Will you kindly see that it meets his eye? — Zelie Passavant Emerson: 1900

Zelie Emerson circa 1880

Zelie Emerson circa 1880

They were indeed old friends. As a young girl, Zelie Passavant and Andrew Carnegie had even spoken of marriage. Her father, William Passavant, a well-known Lutheran minister, objected on religious grounds. Zelie took the train to Pittsburgh to make her case, and in honor of their past friendship, Carnegie granted Jackson an additional $20,000.

 

My Dear Mr. Carnegie: Two years ago you gave us $70,000 for a Public Library. The City bought a magnificent site on Main Street. The bids overrun the sum given us at least $25,000 owing to the great advance in the cost of materials and labor. Nothing could be done to lessen the cost without cheapening the construction and so spoiling the building. You would not wish us to change it in any single particular. We would deeply appreciate your favorable consideration of this matter. Yours ever sincerely, Zelie Passavant Emerson: Feb. 14, 1903

Mr. Carnegie said “no.”

My dear Mr. Carnegie, believe me that the people of Jackson deeply appreciate your generous gift. The library building in its simple and serene beauty has set a new and high Ideal for public buildings in our town, and its perfect adaptation to all library needs will provide for the city a library home for ½ Century to come. — Zelie Passavant Emerson


The Building is a Peach

The building was due to finish in 1904, but labor unrest and construction problems increased the costs and delayed the opening for two years. The Carnegie building finally opened on August 21, 1906, to great fanfare.

There will be no more jibes and jeers as to when the new library will open its doors. They actually opened Monday morning. It’s safe to say Librarian Waldo was the happiest woman in Jackson. But the building is a peach–and its magnificence and convenience goes far to compensate for the long delay. Hundreds of our townspeople visited the library Monday and Tuesday to inspect its beauty and several ladies left flowers. — Saturday Evening Star: August 1906

Carnegie Building circa 1906

Carnegie Building circa 1906

My grandmother regularly attended the library to upgrade her skills and keep current with what was going on. I remember her taking us there and she told us the whole story of how Mr. Carnegie gave us the money to build the library and it was a place of learning and a place to be revered and held high in esteem in the community. — Interview with Dr. Edward Mathein:2014

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Author: The Jackson District Library

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