Carnegie Library

Albert Lea Historical Downtown Walking Tour

Carnegie Library

Albert Lea, Minnesota 56007, United States

Created By: Freeborn County Historical Museum


Carnegie Library, 146 West College Street

Built in 1903 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie, this red-brick building was designed in a distinctive Beaux-Arts style by Schick and Ross, architects from La Crosse, Wisconsin. The basement story has rusticated limestone and brick bands, and is separated from the raised first floor by a sandstone stringcourse. The first story has eight tall window openings on the west facade and five tall window openings on the south facade, all filled with modern plate-glass windows. Brick pilasters with sandstone bases and capitals and brick bands ornament the first story. The entrance in the building's angled southwest corner has been remodeled with a modern plate-glass transom and double doors. The brick wing walls and concrete stairs of the entrance stoop are replacements. The original stone door hood is supported on brackets above
a roundel flanked by foliation. A stone cornice wraps around the west, southwest, and south facades and forms an arch over the entrance.

Citizens of Minneapolis, Duluth, and Saint Paul were the first to set up libraries as Minnesota became established in the last half of the nineteenth century. By 1879, twenty-seven subscription libraries had been founded throughout the state, including one in Albert Lea in 1873. By 1875, the Albert Lea facility claimed 175 volumes. Possibly located in makeshift
quarters on the second floor of 102 East Clark Street, the library soon closed for lack of support. A more successful attempt was made in 1897 when a group of women opened a library in a vacant house at North Broadway and Water Street. Beginning with fifty books and thirteen dollars in cash, the women kept the library open weekday evenings and Saturday afternoons. By 1899, their continued pressure convinced the city to levy a tax to support a free public library, a financing option enabled by state legislation passed hi 1879. The library soon moved to bigger quarters in the Enterprise Building at West Clark Street and Washington Avenue.

The formation of the Albert Lea Library Association in 1897 led to the establishment of a public library. In an effort to raise funds for a library building, Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, was contacted. A grant was secured from Mr. Carnegie, and the building was constructed in 1903. The building gable is notable baroque detail.

Andrew Carnegie was one of the 19th century’s great American capitalists. He built several fortunes but is inseparably identified with the steel industry. A growing interest in philanthropy, guided by his poor boy’s roots in Scotland and informed by a lifelong love of reading and learning, manifested in funding more than 2,500 public libraries.

According to Kevin Clemens, author of “Carnegie Libraries of Minnesota,” of the original 66 Carnegie libraries in Minnesota, 48 buildings still stand; 22 are working libraries. (Albert Lea Tribune, December 23, 2011)

This point of interest is part of the tour: Albert Lea Historical Downtown Walking Tour


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