Scottish-born industrialist Andrew Carnegie was an alchemist: First he turned steel into gold. A lot of gold. And then he turned gold into good works: In 1886 he began to use the fortune he made in the steel industry to build public libraries in towns across the country.
Then, in 1901, when he sold Carnegie Steel Company to J. P. Morgan for $480 million ($13.6 billion today), that transaction brought Carnegie’s checking account balance to a tidy $310 billion-with-a-b in today’s dollars. That’s when Andrew Carnegie retired and really began turning gold into good works. For example, he gave away $40 million (about $1 billion today) to build more than sixteen hundred public libraries in cities across America, from sixty-seven branch libraries in New York City to thirty-two central libraries in Texas in towns from El Paso to Marshall. Of the thirty-two built in Texas, only thirteen have survived, and only four of those are still used as libraries. (Photo from Wikipedia.)
Fort Worth was an early beneficiary of Carnegie’s philanthropy.
But first some background: In 1892 twenty women, led by Jenny Scheuber, had formed the Fort Worth Public Library Association. But without a library building, the association’s work was more theory than practice. Members met in private homes, such as that of John Peter Smith. Clip is from the October 4, 1892 Gazette.
In fact, this column by “Helen Humility” in the January 10, 1897 Register indicates that some folks didn’t see much need for a public library. One prominent capitalist—a man—said the libraries at the YMCA and Commercial Club were “little used.” But those were male facilities. The Commercial Club was a men’s club that changed its name to the “Fort Worth Club” in 1906.
In the late 1890s the women of the library association asked for help from Carnegie. Carnegie is said to have suggested that the women ask each man in Fort Worth to donate “the price of a good cigar” to cover the cost of operating a library. When the city guaranteed $4,000 a year to operate a library, Carnegie made his donation.
On July 26, 1899 Mayor and Cowtown head cheerleader B. B. Paddock announced that Carnegie had responded favorably to the women’s appeal: Fort Worth could receive $50,000 ($1.3 million today) to build a public library. Paddock was ecstatic: “Sound the hewgag. Blow the ram’s horn. Proclaim it from the housetops!” Clip is from the Register.
That night at a mass meeting Mayor Paddock made the motion that Carnegie’s offer be accepted. Paddock’s motion was seconded, and lo, a most unlibrary-like commotion did ensue: “Bedlam broke loose, and never before was such an enthusiastic uproar heard in the vicinity of the city hall.” Clip is from the July 27 Register.
In September the city advertised for construction bids. Herbert H. Greene of Dallas was the architect. British-born architect Howard Messer was consulting architect and superintendent. Messer designed the Ball-Eddleman-McFarland house (1899) on Penn Street. (Marshall Sanguinet designed the Carnegie libraries in Dallas and Leavenworth, Kansas.) Clip is from the September 24, 1899 Register.
Mrs. Sarah Jennings (as in the street name) donated land for the building. The cornerstone was laid on June 13, 1900. This clip from the June 14 Dallas Morning News says the Fort Worth library was the second Carnegie library to be built in Texas.
On October 17, 1901, Fort Worth’s Carnegie Public Library opened. The building also contained an art gallery. Jenny Scheuber of the library association served as librarian—for the next thirty-seven years. Note the library’s generous operating hours at the bottom. Clip is from the October 18 Register.
Some views of the Carnegie Public Library:
The library faced across 9th Street toward Hyde Park and the 1907 Flatiron Building. Across Throckmorton Street were the 1893 city hall and the 1899 fire hall. (The footprints of the Flatiron and the 1906 Western National Bank buildings at West 9th and Houston conform to odd-shaped lots.)
Photo by Fort Worth photographer Charles Swartz (Library of Congress).
Some details of the frieze.
Image from Library of Congress.
Under one of those top hats is President Theodore Roosevelt, possibly the gent doffing with right hand near the center of the photo (see inset). During a visit to Fort Worth in 1905 Roosevelt planted a tree at the library. Photo was taken by the ubiquitous Charles Swartz and dated April 8. Six months later, on October 6, Charles Swartz would be struck and killed by a Katy locomotive as he was taking photos. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)
(More on the Swartz brothers: https://www.facebook.com/SwartzBrothersPhotographExhibit?fref=photo)
Fort Worth’s Carnegie Public Library was demolished in 1936. On the site was built the 1939 wedge-shaped library, which was demolished in 1990. The current central library on 3rd Street was built in 1978.
The cornerstone, whose inscription is a who’s who of civic leaders, stands on the site of the library.
Note that the historical marker on the site was placed when the 1939 library still stood.
Oh, and a hewgag is a toy musical pipe.