Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 6, 2017

Stepping into 1912: Carnegie Library, Albany, Oregon

I enjoy visiting historic library buildings as I travel, particularly ones built with funds granted by the Carnegie Foundation in the early part of the 20th Century. The Carnegie grants helped establish or foster a significant majority of the library systems in the U.S., as well as in several other countries.

On a recent trip to Oregon, I made stops to see several of them. One never knows what condition an old building will be in; has it been well maintained, does it retain any of its original character or has it been entirely remodeled?

Albany, Oregon, located in the Willamette River valley between Eugene and Salem, received a Carnegie grant and opened its library in 1912.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7588 (640x480)

Now a city of about 52,000 people, the seat of Linn County, Albany was thriving in 1912. The library is in the Monteith section of the city that’s been given protected status by the National Register of Historic Places, including a large number of houses and business structures.

From the outside, Albany’s Downtown Carnegie Library looks like hundreds of other old Carnegies, with its stairs (that originally did not have handrails) and stone entry (Albany’s exterior doors have been replaced, but the original entry doors are inside). One always goes in with the same question in mind: What’s left of the original interior? Some details of ceiling moldings or woodwork? An old wooden bookcase, one or two chairs?

The answer in Albany: It’s all there. While not every single detail is intact, the library looks very much as it did in 1912.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7591 (640x475)

Even the oak furniture is original…

Albany library Brad Nixon 7598 (640x480)

… including the reception desk where you check out a book or ask the librarian a question.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7618 (640x478)

The original card catalog?

Albany library Brad Nixon 7615 (640x580)

Check: although now kept in an office, no longer in use for the collection.

A reading nook with requisite portrait of Andrew Carnegie, too.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7599 (473x640)

Few public buildings manage to fulfill their original functions amidst the wear and tear of daily use for more than a century with so few alterations. The Albany library is a rare exception.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7597 (640x480)

One of the requirements of a Carnegie grant was that buildings were to be libraries, not multifunction spaces: Carnegie didn’t want to fund meeting halls or civic offices. However, the lower level of the Albany library was originally just that: meeting space and even a small auditorium with a stage for community use.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7606 (640x480)

One has to assume that the city funded that portion of the building separately. Carnegie’s sharp-eyed accountants would not have permitted applying grant money for other uses. Today, though, the library occupies most of the lower level, although the area is available to civic groups.

There have been alterations to the library, but done discreetly, and one has no difficulty, with a little time and a few deep breaths, to feel that it’s 1912 again (even the computer terminals are in a room that’s out of view of the main room, resting on more of that furniture).

Albany Library Brad Nixon 7596 680

Albany does face some challenges with its library. Typically, one sees a ramp zig-zagging to the main entrance of old buildings with entrances above street level, in order to provide access in accord with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Another access problem is that once one’s on the main, upper floor, the restrooms are on the lower level (they’ve been modernized), with only stairs for access. Being contained in a National Historic District gives the library a certain amount of relief from being ADA-compliant, but the issue will have to be addressed, whether via ramps, an elevator, or some combination.

Albany also has a larger modern structure that serves as its main library, so citizens have an option regarding accessibility. One hopes that the city will find a solution that will accommodate patrons with limited mobility and still retain as much of the building’s original character as possible.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7602 (640x537)

As always, I remind readers that it took significant effort to turn a Carnegie grant for a building (Albany received $12,500) into a functioning library. The citizens of Albany rose to the challenge – and they’ve continued to support, fund and expand their local library system. It’s to their credit, and testifies that libraries still play an important role.

When You Go 

Albany lies immediately west of Interstate 5, 25 miles south of Salem, 40 miles north of Eugene. From the north, take exit 234B; from the south, exit 233. Continue west to Route 20, Pacific Ave. Exit north on Lyon St., turn left on 3rd Ave., then left on Ferry, and you’ll find the Downtown Carnegie Library on the right at 302 SW Ferry St. It’s on the southwestern edge of downtown, within easy walking distance of other interesting attractions.

A Note of Appreciation

My thanks to the Albany library director, Mona, and her helpful staff, who graciously found time to show me their library and provided me with more history and local lore than I have space to report.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2017, revised 2020


  1. Loved this post on the Carnegie library. Near where I live in northern England we have the UK’s first Carnegie library and it is still a joy to behold. I’ll try and write a post on it at some stage but if you would like further details now, just let me know.


    • I’d very much like to read your account. With your powers of observation and native curiosity, a blog post in your typical manner is worth waiting for. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very pleasing use of the blond oak trim throughout the interior spaces. I like wood trim. It gives a warm and calming effect to interiors.


  3. What a treasure!


Leave a Comment. I enjoy hearing from readers.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: