Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 18, 2019

Tucson Carnegie Library

I visited Tucson, Arizona this summer. Regular readers know I’m always keen to get a sense of a town’s library system — especially when there’s a former Carnegie Library building still standing. Of course I went to see it.

Tucson Carnegie Brad Nixon 5465 680

One of four Carnegie libraries built in Arizona (Phoenix, Prescott and Yuma have the others, all buildings still extant), Tucson’s opened in 1901. The $25,000 Carnegie grant was awarded in 1899, early in the lifetime of the Carnegie library funding. Later, as the program gained attention around the world, most of the grants were scaled down to about $10,000. Tucson benefitted by catching the early wave.

Tucson Carnegie Brad Nixon 5466 680

The early Tucson of the Spanish colonial era was a town of adobe brick, but as the city prospered, fired red brick became the building material of choice, as you’ll see in a number of posts I’ll publish about Tucson. Lumber was a rare resource in the western desert, and brick predominates in many towns.

Local architect Henry Trost designed the library in Neoclassical revival style.

Tucson Carnegie Brad Nixon 5470 680

Here it is in 1901, the year it opened.

PIma County Carnegie 1901 680

A Series of Changes

Comparing that archival photo with mine, you can see that most of the exterior decorative features have been removed, especially the ornate triangular pediment, in 1961. The building was expanded more than once, most ambitiously in 1938 and 1961. Between those dates, a fire destroyed the library’s central rotunda and the dome, which was not replaced.

The structure served as Tucson’s main library for a long time: nearly 90 years. In 1990, it was replaced by the 90,000 square foot Joel D. Valdez Main Library half a dozen blocks to the north. The new main library occupies one side of a large public space, within easy walking distance of many of the city’s major structures, including the Pima County Courthouse and the original Spanish establishment, the Presidio.

Tucson Main Google 680

The Carnegie building still serves a civic educational purpose; it’s now the Tucson Children’s Museum.

Museum sign Brad Nixon 5463 680

We went to see the old Carnegie on a Monday in midsummer. With school on summer break, there was a steady stream of families moving up the walk and climbing the steps to visit the obviously popular attraction.

Although the interior still has the soaring ceilings and central rotunda that branches into side and rear wings, not much of the original architectural details have survived.

I didn’t attempt to shoot a photo inside, because the place was bustling with children engaged in noisy and energetic exploration of innumerable interactive exhibits. The Counselor and I laughed to imagine what the librarians of an earlier era would have thought of the absolute pandemonium reigning in a place that once represented the epitome of quiet study.

One hopes they’d understand that the city’s long-ago investment in their library is still paying dividends, educating yet another generation of Tucsonians, although at a higher decibel level than once prevailed in the staid, formal structure.

Seeing the Carnegie building/Tucson Children’s Museum

The building stands at 200 S 6th Avenue, a block south of east-west Broadway, and faces Armory Park to the east.

Hours vary, according to days of the week. During winter, the museum is not open on Mondays, but in summer, Mondays offer discounted admission: $3 per person rather than the usual $9 (which explains the crowd at the museum on the day we visited).

There is metered parking along 6th Ave. and adjacent streets. There’s a parking garage across Armory Park, accessed from 5th Ave.

Get more information at

The Joel D. Valdez Main Library is at 101 N. Stone Ave., at Alameda St. Check for hours, directions and parking at

Envoi: Libraries Large, Small and Little

The Tucson metro area has more than a million people, served by the extensive Tucson-Pima County Library System. Kudos to the citizens for their active support of public libraries.

Scattered around the city — as there are in many places — you’ll also find Little Free Libraries, established and stocked by local residents. Here are three we encountered in residential areas in Tucson. Who says reading is on the way out?

Little Free Library Brad Nixon 5485 680

What’s your latest library encounter? Leave a comment. Support your local library.

© Brad Nixon 2019. Library archival photo courtesy Tucson-Pima Library System; Joel D. Valquez Main Library photo © Google 2019


  1. I found one of those little free libraries recently, near the Big Thicket visitor center in east Texas. On my next visit, I’m taking some books to leave there, interleaving their presence with the leaves of the woods.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your Carnegie Library theme is definitely one of my favorite post series on the internet! It’s fascinating to know these places are still scattered across the country, especially since many haven’t survived. I can only imagine what the culture of Tucson must have been like in 1899, Carnegie must have seen its potential to designate a grant so impactful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. But Carnegie also had a classic boy-makes-good confidence in the transformative potential of libraries anywhere, for anyone. He genuinely credited having gotten access to books as a boy with giving him the chance to succeed and become wealthy beyond imagining. So he believed providing that same opportunity to others could change lives and improve the world.
      There were conditions any town had to meet before it received a grant, and Carnegie’s administrator reviewed applications and had to approve that the town could meet them.
      Thanks for your kind words. I still have quite a few hundred Carnegies to go see!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Great details on Carnegie; a pure and true motivation for giving to others. I look forward to experiencing many more Carnegies through your travels… I think this would make an excellent book, by the way!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful read, Brad! Fascinating history! Stunning structure! Quite ironic about the increase in decibel levels!

    Liked by 1 person

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: