Carnegie Building

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Marion Public Library's Carnegie Building
For nearly a century the Carnegie Building at 600 South Washington Street has been an integral part of the community of Marion. In 1902 the building of it gave the community a much needed library and cultural center. During the years it has grown and changed with the community to continue to serve its patrons. It has always and will continue to be a much loved part of Marion’s history and community.


In 1880 the city of Marion demanded and began a private subscription library in the county’s old courthouse. After a tax levy to support the library was granted in 1884 the library was able to open for public service in 1888. Over the next two decades the library was moved to seven different locations (Marion Public Library). It was quite apparent that a permanent location was needed.

The first obstacle against the building of a permanent library was a law in Indiana stating that cities must have a population of 30,000 or more people to build a library. However Marion did not meet this criteria so three representative’s Dr. J. H. Forest, A. C. Jay, and George Webster were sent to Indianapolis. They were to present a new bill with the help of Senator Osborne and Representative Guantt. The new bill would allow for the issuance of bonds by cities with a population of 15,000 for the erection of public library buildings (“Win in Committee” A5). On January 25, 1901 Representative Guantt wrote with the news that the bill had passed. This meant that Marion was now assured that a $30,000-40,000 library would be built (“Library Building is Almost Assured” Al).


The next obstacle in the building of the library was to secure the funds needed to build it. The bill, which had been passed, gave the city the authority to issue bonds up to $100,000. However before moving forward with that method of financing the board made the decision to write to Mr. Andrew Carnegie with a request for the needed funds (Israel,Kenneth E. A8). Andrew Carnegie was the former owner of The Carnegie Steel Company, which upon his retirement he sold and became a philanthropist. He began several charitable organizations and donated to the construction of many libraries (“Andrew Carnegie”). Andrew Carnegie’s private Secretary Jas. Bertrum wrote back:

If the city of Marion will provide a suitable site and pledge itself by resolution of councils to spend from taxation not less than $5,000 a year on the support of its Library, Mr. Carnegie will be glad to give $50,000 for the erection of a suitable building.

The city at once passed the necessary actions and accepted the offer of Mr. Carnegie (Israel, Kenneth E. A8). This meant that Marion now had the necessary funds to build a library (Appendix A: Illustration 1).

Prior to the passing of the bill and the acquisition of funds for the new library a site for it had been purchased. The site was at the corner of Sixth and Washington Streets and was previously owned by the Flinn’s. The purchase price was $6,600 but $600 had been donated by Peter G. Flinn, this left the city to pay for just $6000 (Israel, Kenneth E. A8).

Design and Construction

Marion Public Library in 1911
After the funds were assured the school board took bids on the design of the building. With much deliberation the design submitted by the Columbus, Ohio firm Richards, McCarty & Bulford was selected (Appendix A: Illustration 2). Working with them would be Marion resident and Architect B. L. French (“New Library For Marion” Al).

The plans were for a building covering a lot of 66 by 132 feet (“New Library for Marion” Al). The construction was completed by Phillip B. Patton and James Long of Marion (Israel, Kenneth E. A8). Upon completion it would be 2 stories high with abasement extending 6 feet above ground (Appendix B: Illustration 1). The building would be of classical design with an elaborate entrance (Appendix B: Illustration 2) on sixth street (“New Library for Marion” Al). The entrance was separated by a glass partition from the delivery room to let light in. On either side of the eritranceway was a staircase leading to the second floor. On the first floor landing were doors leading to the general reading and superintendent’s rooms. The entrance opened into the delivery room which has mosaic floors (Appendix C: Illustration 1) with wainscoting marble extending five feet from the floor, from the marble to the picture molding the walls were burlap, from there to the ceiling is ornamented plaster (Appendix C: Illustration 2). To the rear of this room was the stack room (Appendix D: Illustration 1) with a glass partitioned librarians desk in one corner. A private stairway led to the basement. To the right of this room were the librarian’s offices. At the west end of the first floor was the general reading room. To the north of this room was the reference room. To the east of this room was a conversation room. On the other side of the stack room was the children’s room. In the northeast corner of the floor was the trustees’ room next to the superintendent’s office (Forest 86).

Leading from the entrance are two marble stairways, which unite on one landing on the second floor this led to a lobby which overlooked the skylight over the stack room. At the east end of the lobby was the picture gallery with a skylight to provide lighting. Next to this room was the art room and next to that were two rooms used as local history and natural history rooms. On either side of the stairway were cloakrooms. The west end of this floor was to be used as a lecture hall. Leading from the first floor entrance is a stairway to the basement (Appendix D: Illustration 2), which housed the main lavatories and closets. Light was provided to the basement by windows. Also in the basement were a storage room, receiving room~, and rooms for kindergarten classes. As well as the boiler room (Forest 88). When the building was completed it cost a total of $62, 445.48 including the land, construction, architect’s fees, and furniture (Israel Kenneth E. A8).

A building of such grandeur and importance in the city of Marion called for a very grand opening. On Friday December 5, 1902 the grand opening of the Carnegie Library in Marion, Indiana was held. Thousands of people attended the festivities. They admired the rooms and listened to the several speakers and performers. The exercises took place on the second floor in the auditorium (“Carnegie Library Formally Opened” Al).


Since the opening of the Carnegie building it has had to undergo several changes to continue to serve the people of Marion (Appendix E: Illustration 1). These include renovations and additions. These were done to modernize the building. In addition to keeping up with advances in library service.

One remodeling took place from 1959 to 1962 when the main floor and basement were changed and made more modern. This project cost $81,000. Another project was undertaken from 1969 to 1970 to put an electric heating and air conditioning system in place of the old one. This project cost $80,700 to carry out (Israel, Kenneth E. A8). At one point the stack room skylight was made into The Forest Room and a hallway (Love).

The Library's new entrance
The most notable change to the Carnegie Building was the addition of a new entrance. This change was needed to give handicapped and older people easier access to the library (“Marion Library Holds Groundbreaking” sec. 2: 17). With the building of this addition the original sixth street entrance would be closed (“Library Addition Revealed” Al). The planning for the addition began in 1971 when the lot adjacent to the south side of the library was purchased. Building began in 1974 with Bowman Construction Co. doing the general construction (Appendix E: Illustration 2), Stremmel and Hilt doing the mechanical work, Holloway Electrical Co. doing electrical work and using plans from Gerald E. Guy and Associates architectural firm (“Marion Library Holds Groundbreaking” sec 2: 17). When completed in 1975 (Israel, Kenneth E. A8) it cost about $210,000 (Hammaker). The new addition opened January 2, 1976 with a new street level entrance, new circulation facilities, drive-up window, and an elevator to all three floors (Appendix F: Illustration 1) (Israel Kenneth E. A8).

Construction of the new library
Beginning in 1988 the Marion Public Library saw they needed more room for parking and books. They bought two properties at 614 Washington Street and 123 West Sixth Street ((Pendergast, “Library Buying” A12). Unsure of how to use the land they paid $4,000 to Cole and Associates Inc. to conduct a study on the Carnegie Building and how to best use the new land. The study revealed that the library was too small for the population. In addition the floors had been warped due to roof leakage and could no longer comply with the state code of being able to support 125 pounds per square foot.

However it could support museum use (Pendergast, “Library Officials” A1+). A new building was constructed beginning in 1989 and in March 1991 library service began in the new building which is connected to the Carnegie Building by a ground level connector (Appendix F: Illustration 2) (Marion Public Library Dedication Pamphlet). In addition the street level windows on the Carnegie Building were covered with limestone (Appendix G: Illustration 1 )(Love).

Once the new library was opened changes could be made to the Carnegie Building in preparation of its new mission. Some of the original features of the building were left or uncovered. The tile mosaic of a book and lantern in the west entrance was left (Appendix G: Illustration 1). Paint was stripped and the original wood was left intact and restored to its original state. Carpeting was removed on the first floor to reveal a tile floor and on the second floor in the auditorium (Kingery Al). A step in the auditorium was also removed (Love). The bookcases original to the building were removed to make way for museum artifacts (Appendix H: Illustration 1 and 2). The trim on the arches was painted to match the mosaic (Kingery Al). Window coverings were selected. Most importantly the basement was changed to fit the needs of a museum. The storeroom was changed to a museum lab. The stairs were installed with partitions to keep the basement secure. Finally shelves were added for storage (Israel, Ken 1).

Multiple Uses

Throughout the existence of the Carnegie Building it has served several purposes. It has not been just a library for the people of Marion. It has had other uses as well. From 1902 to 1991 the Carnegie Building was a free public library. In it people could learn, read, explore, and do homework. Books were loaned and rooms were occupied by those eager to learn. However during that time the library was also a meeting place for the people of Marion. In 1904 a free kindergarten was offered and a museum and art collection were already housed on the second floor (Manufacturers and Merchants 10). The second floor is also the home of an auditorium, which has been used for lectures, debate classes, plays, and programs (Love). The Grant County Historical Society got its start there with its first meeting March 25, 1905 (Israel, Ken 1).

Starting in 1992 the museum, which is owned and operated, by the Marion Public Library became open to the public. Since that time several exhibits have been housed there. Since it opened it has been home to the Grant County Historical Society artifacts (Israel, Ken 1). It has also showcased some traveling exhibits. In 1994 the People of the Turtle exhibit organized by the Minnetrista Cultural Center was featured, it was an exhibit of Native American artifacts (“People of the Turtle” 1). In 1994 the Victorian home Exhibit opened in the west gallery which features furnishings from a Victorian home (“Victorian Room Exhibit Opens” 2). This exhibit has remained in the museum although it is periodically changed. In 1995 a medical history exhibit called “Strychnine, Quinine, and Calomel: Cures Old and New” was featured, it displayed medical instruments and other memorabilia from the late 19th and early 20th century (Clime B4). Both of these were on the top floor. On March 12, 2000 the Museum opened a fine arts exhibit. This was continuing their tradition in the arts which began in 1905 with The First Annual Loan Exhibition which was continued the following two years. The exhibition was held in the Forest Room on the second floor with cases outside the room featuring statues from the opening in 1902. The exhibition emphasizes Brown County art and is still continuing (“Fine Arts Exhibition” 1). The Museum also houses the Indiana History Genealogy Room which provides many sources and help for people in search of the past (Indiana History and Genealogy & Museum Services).


To the people of Marion the Carnegie Building is more than a library or a museum it is a place of knowledge and learning. A window to the past. It has greatly fulfilled its mission of cultural center to its patrons. For almost a century now it has played an important role in the lives of the people it serves and it continues to do so.


This paper was written by Laura Graves during January 2001. It was completed as a project at Marion High School for Mr. Lakes's AP English 11 class and Mr. Munn's AP U.S. History class.