Today’s installment in our observance of National Library combines the ongoing Under Western Skies theme of Carnegie Libraries with a look at another theme: small towns, this time all in California.
Libraries are important everywhere. They’re particularly important in small towns, not only as educational and information resources, but as centers of social interaction and demonstrations of civic pride. They’re critically important to small school systems, which may lack the funds to buy books, provide space and staff in order to maintain their own library. Before the existence of the Internet, they were often the only source of books and research material for young people and adults alike.
These libraries represent thousands of other small town libraries that demonstrate how important access to books, periodicals and other information are to everyone.
Once again, we’ll rely for photos on our ambitious rover of the West, Willard Nixon, who’s never taken a freeway when a local one will get you there, never eaten in a chain restaurant when place called “Mom’s” or “JP’s Shack” is open, and always has his camera ready.
We’ll start in Hollister, California (red circle), inland from Monterey Bay, east of Route 101, about 50 miles southeast of San Jose.
Libraries are often showpieces of period architecture or reflect the character and style of their location. The Carnegie Libraries around the world come in a profusion of styles. The Carnegie organization had extensive rules governing how the libraries it funded would be organized, but the style of the buildings was determined by the local organization that built them. Here’s Hollister’s:
Built in 1912, Willard tells us it has a reinforced concrete foundation and walls because the city is situated on the Calaveras Fault. As you can see, it’s now Hollister’s City Hall.
Driving up 101 through San Francisco, turning east and then north again on Route 29, we reach the Napa Valley. Almost certainly, if you go there, you’ll be interested in tasting wine, eating gourmet food and enjoying the memorable landscape. Those towns, though — Napa, Yountville, Calistoga — were thriving agricultural centers well before California took its place among the world’s leading wine producers. The citizens of St. Helena (red circle) built their Carnegie Library in 1908.
It’s one of few surviving examples of Mission style in the area, characterized by asymmetry, curvilinear gable ends and gablest, end arches and a tile roof.
It served as the St. Helena library until 1978, and is now a community center. Their new library houses the Napa Valley Wine Library, in case you’re interested in more information than you can get during your tours of the wineries.
Much further north, truly off the beaten track, west of 101 about 20 miles south of Eureka, is Ferndale (red circle), in the floodplain of the Eel River, not far from the Pacific Ocean.
With fewer than 1,400 people, Ferndale is a colorful spot, boasting dozens of Victorian-style buildings. Built in 1909, Ferndale’s is the only Carnegie in northwestern California still functioning as a public library.
Our wanderer of the byways is an avid reader when he’s not on the road, although his hometown Cole Library in Carlsbad, California has a somewhat more contemporary look than the above survivors from more than a century ago.
With more than 100,000 people, and incorporated in 1952, Carlsbad, north of San Diego, is neither a small town nor old enough to have a Carnegie. But there’s a library, because libraries are important everywhere.
Libraries are not accidents, and they aren’t self-propagating or self-supporting. It’s National Library Week: support one.
© Brad Nixon and Willard Nixon 2016. Special thanks to Willard, who not only shot the photos, but provided much of the background information for this look at three small California towns and their local palaces of learning.