Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 10, 2019

National Library Week; Two Oregon Carnegie Libraries

It’s National Library Week, so it’s time for Under Western Skies to visit a Carnegie Library.

As it happens, my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest included looks at four libraries constructed with funds from the Carnegie Foundation. Today, I’ll give you a look at two of the 21 extant Carnegie library buildings in Oregon. Later this week: two of 44 Carnegies that were built in the state of Washington. A cornucopia of Carnegies.

Carnegies Galore

There are Carnegie library buildings in more than a thousand American cities and towns. Here’s one from a previous visit, in Ashland, Oregon, still part of the Jackson County system.

Ashland Carnegie Brad Nixon 1734

My regular readers know from previous posts that the Scottish-American industrial magnate, Andrew Carnegie invested some of his enormous wealth to fund the construction of library buildings. Crediting his start in life to having been granted access to some private libraries, he was determined to promote public libraries that would help others improve their own lives.

Another Oregon example: Portland, Oregon has 6 extant Carnegie buildings. Here’s one, the North Portland branch.

Carnegie Library North Portland OR exterior Brad Nixon 7769 cr (640x538)

As the 20th century began, communities could apply to Carnegie’s foundation for funds to erect library buildings. In order to secure a grant, they needed to demonstrate that they had a place to build and the financial and organization means to acquire books, staff the facility and manage its operation. In all, the foundation provided funds for more than 2,500 library buildings, 1,689 in the United States, the balance in a dozen other countries.

In Search of Oregon Carnegies

I enjoy tracking down extant Carnegies as I travel. They’re there thanks to significant determination by communities in the early 20th century to improve the lives of their citizens. The buildings were designed in a wide variety of architectural styles. Each one is unique.

Not every extant Carnegie building is still a library. That’s the case in Medford, in southwestern Oregon.

Medford Carnegie Brad Nixon 4674 680

Like many other city libraries, Medford’s sits amidst a grassy park.

Medford Carnegie Brad Nixon 4685 680

The library was expanded with a not-particularly-attractive rear addition in the 1950s.

Medford Carnegie Brad Nixon 4681 680

In 2004, Jackson County Libraries — of which Medford’s a branch — opened a new, larger structure closer to the center of town, leaving the Carnegie building without a tenant. It was used by the city’s government for a variety of office and meeting functions for a time, then it sat unused for the better part of a decade — never a good thing for 100 year-old buildings. Now, the building’s in the midst of extensive restoration that will see a local philanthropy, the Kid Time Children’s Museum, take up residence.

Medford Carnegie Brad Nixon 4683 680

Although its classical revival design may not appeal to contemporary tastes, the buiding exterior appears to be in good condition, thanks to more than $1 million invested so far in new windows and other improvements.

Medford Carnegie Brad Nixon 4684 680

Much remains to be done, but it’s good to see the old building has a future. “Repurposing” is a common fate for old libraries that are structurally sound. You’ll find community centers, museums and even commercial offices occupying the onetime libraries. Good luck, Medford. Well done.

To Northern Oregon

The counselor and I also ranged to the north, passing through Portland into Washington. Our Portland visit included a first-ever look at historic Oregon City, located on the Willamette River, upstream from Portland. Oregon City was once larger than Portland, because river navigation up- and downstream stopped at the 1,500 foot wide horseshoe of Willamette Falls. The town became a center of shipping and paper manufacturing.

Willamette Falls Brad Nixon 4826 680

One of many historic buildings giving Oregon City its distinctive character is the 1913 Carnegie Library, set in Carnegie Park, now officially Library Park. Another classical revival approach, this time in red brick.

Oregon City Carnegie Brad Nixon 4807 680

Early in the 2000s, the Clackamas County Library system needed to expand its library in the county seat. After long consideration, they decided to attach the library expansion to the Carnegie, which was extensively renovated as part of the project.

Oregon City Carnegie Brad Nixon 4813 680

The interior retains some of its original character, including the wooden entryway.

Oregon City Carnegie Brad Nixon 4805 680

The 2016 addition — far larger than the diminutive original — is an attractive and inviting space.

Oregon City Carnegie Brad Nixon 4799 680

Not every old building can or should be preserved. Sometimes, it’s simply not practicable, and the old must make way for the new. Kudos to Oregon City and Clackamas County’s citizens for blending old and new in an impressive way.

Oregon City Carnegie Brad Nixon 4816 680

As always, I salute the innumerable cities, towns and rural areas whose citizens understand the worth of a public library — as important to the people of today as they were to an ambitious youngster escaping dire straits in Scotland. That dedication to providing free access to learning, knowledge and reading, and the professional staff of librarians — aided by countless volunteers — is something to be lauded, everywhere.

What’s your local library’s story? Please leave a comment.

Licensable, high resolution versions of most photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2019

Addendum: Little Miss Traveller of writes in a comment that she once worked in the UK’s first Carnegie library:

“Read about it here The following link provides a brief history of Ilkley and there’s a photo near the bottom labelled Ilkley Town Hall which is actually the library.”


  1. Such an interesting post with wonderful photos of Carnegie libraries. I actually worked in the first Carnegie library in the U.K. in Keighley. It’s all been refurbished and looks beautiful internally. I’ll take some photos of it’s interior for you in the next few weeks but you might like to read about it here The following link provides a brief history of Ilkley and there’s a photo near the bottom labelled Ilkley Town Hall which is actually the library. Again, I’ll take some better photos for you when I have time. Marion

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sorry, forgot to attach the second link Brad

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting post, as usual! As you know I work in a library so am always particularly interested in your libray posts.

    I haven’t seen many of your posts recently. I don’t know if you haven’t been posting or I’ve just missed them. Anyway, I hope all is well with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Feisty. Thanks for the concern. I simply had a dormant period, some of it spent traveling. I have a couple of Dewey Hop posts to catch up on, too. Best regards.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I didn’t realize that there were over a thousand Carnegie Libraries in the US. Some of them are fascinating examples of Neoclassical Architecture.

    Liked by 1 person

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