Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 12, 2019

National Library Week: Where’s the Land? What About Books?

My final post of U.S. National Library Week 2019 is one of acknowledgment.

Public libraries exist only because people in towns across the world have made significant efforts to bring them into existence.

Some reside in leafy parks, like the one in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I wrote about it at this link.

Las Vegas Carnegie Brad Nixon 0817 (640x493)

Many public libraries owe some credit to the Carnegie Foundation for providing the funds for buildings. But to qualify for the grants, communities had to provide the land, the books, the staffing and operational oversight. More than 2,000 communities in a dozen countries received Carnegie grants. To secure those grants, some tens of thousands of private citizens organized, raised money and saw to it that their town had a public library. An impressive achievement, The vast majority of those towns still have a library, often greatly expanded — either in the original building or in a library system that’s outgrown the original. Legacies from the foresight and energy of people several generations ago.


In any number of towns, the solution to the problem of where to put the library was relatively simple: a public park, like the one above in New Mexico, modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

Another example’s in the Los Angeles area: the city of South Pasadena, which I described in more detail at this link.

S Pasadena Carnegie Brad Nixon 3113 (640x480)

In this post, I’ll take you to two Carnegies in the state of Washington, to see how the citizens of two northwestern towns dealt with the challenge.

North By Northwest: Vancouver, Washington

Vancouver Carnegie Brad Nixon 4473 680

The Vancouver Public Library opened on the last day of 1909, thanks in part to a $10,000 Carnegie grant for the building.

To secure Carnegie funds for the structure, the city voted to provide $1,500 for library operations, and local donors raised $1,232 for books. In 2018 dollars, those book donations would be valued at about $33,000. Considerable support, in my opinion.

Vancouver Carnegie Brad Nixon 4470 680

Like a number of other extant Carnegie buildings, Vancouver’s Neoclassical Revival building is no longer a public library, and the area is served by a number of branches of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library.

The structure now houses the Clark County Historical Museum.

Clark Museum Brad Nixon 4469 680

Note the language at the bottom of the sign. It has something to say about the above-mentioned issue regarding land for libraries: “Exhibits and Research Library.”

Lowell M. Hidden, a Vancouver area manufacturer whose bricks were used in the construction, donated the land for the library. He specified one condition: The building and the site must always be a library. If not, the property would revert to Hidden or his heirs. Thus, the museum makes a point of stating that it is a museum and research library.

Vancouver Carnegie Brad Nixon 4464 680

So it is, Mr. Hidden. I’m certain the people of Vancouver and Clark County thank you, more than a century after your act of civic generosity.

Farther North: Centralia, Washington

In 1912, Centralia, Washington — about halfway between Seattle and Portland, Oregon — was a boom town. Coal, lumber and dairy farming fueled growth. The brand-new railroad depot, opened just that year, served as many as 44 passenger trains and 17 freight trains daily at its peak capacity.

Centralia Depot Brad Nixon 4414 680

Centralia’s Ladies of the Round Table club got behind the effort to build a public library. Here is a link to the October 8, 1912 edition of The Centralia Daily Chronicle, reporting the Ladies’ organizing effort on the front page.

Centralia secured a Carnegie grant that allowed construction of what is now Centralia Timberland Library and the new library opened in 1913. I’m sorry I know nothing more about the Ladies of the Round Table, although I found an October, 1962 edition of the same newspaper that reported their recent meeting: still going, 50 years after their library effort paid off. I tip the Under Western Skies hat to them.

Where to put the library? Like Las Vegas and South Pasadena, Centralia decided on the city park — George Washington Park — named for the town’s founder, not the U.S. president. The monument in the foreground, “The Sentinel,” is a memorial to the area’s war dead, in many wars.

Centralia monument Brad Nixon 4401 680

With 6, 200 square feet on two floors, the building had four fireplaces. It was expanded and remodeled in the 1970s, including a glassed-in weather enclosure that obscures the original entrance.

Centralia Carnegie Brad Nixon 4392 680

The fortunes of Centralia’s downtown — like those of so many small towns — has flagged. The same location that helped build its growth, halfway between the busy shipping ports on the Columbia River and those in Tacoma and Seattle, has had the opposite effect in the days of interstate highway travel. Retail, restaurants and general commerce are located at the exits along interstate highway 5, just two miles from downtown.

Fortunately, the library still operates to serve the community. Locals need a library, even if travelers are interested only in a convenient place to fuel up, grab a meal or shop at the outlet mall before continuing to Seattle or Portland, about an hour and a half, either way.

Here’s the Library’s opposite facade, facing Silver Street.

Centralia Carnegie Brad Nixon 4390 680

Yes, Andrew Carnegie deserves his share of the credit for those $10,000 grants. With a value of about a quarter million dollars in today’s currency, they were significant opportunities for towns large and small to build something of genuine worth.

But a building is simply a structure, and I credit those citizens in thousands of towns for using the funds to build something of lasting value: so valuable that more than 100 years later, many of the buildings — or their successors — are filled not just with books, but computers, wi-fi, online research databases, multimedia, meeting spaces, staffed by trained professionals.

Happy National Library Week 2019. Enjoy your library. It took some effort to get it started. It’s up to us to keep it going.

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, 2020


  1. Once again, I thank you for your support of public libraries. This was an informative and interesting article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Feisty. You and your colleagues are doing the work, day in and day out. I’m just a tourist here.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Library Week’s over, but the libraries go on. With any luck, they’ll continue on for a good while.

    It occurs to me that railroad stations from that early era are just as recognizable as Carnegie libraries. I’ve found many of them repurposed, too: mostly in to museums.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’ll be at least one more railroad station from the Oregon trip. There are certainly more old railroad stations than Carnegies, but maybe about the same number of libraries, all told. Thank goodness.


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