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Beacon Senior News

Delta Library: a Carnegie legacy

May 31, 2018 07:22AM ● By Kate Senn

Andrew Carnegie, a self-made steel tycoon and philanthropist, built over 2,500 libraries around the world, including 35 in Colorado. The Delta Library is one of the few remaining Carnegie structures still operating for its intended purpose. Photo circa 1913.

Nineteenth century philanthropist Andrew Carnegie probably didn’t know much about Delta or western Colorado during his lifetime. He was more familiar with the rolling hills of rural Pennsylvania and the cobbled streets of Pittsburg.

The geographical distance between Delta and Pittsburg, however, didn’t stop him from donating over $6,000 to create Delta’s first library. As one of the few Carnegie libraries still remaining in Colorado, Delta’s library is a gem—not only for its free community services, but also for its role in the state’s history.

Self-made success

The mid 1800s brought many Americans fame and fortune. Business opportunities were endless in the young country that brought hope to millions of poor immigrants like Carnegie’s parents. With textile experience as damask weavers in Scotland, Carnegie’s father settled the family in the prosperous town of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, also famous for its textile production.

Though he grew up working in the cotton mills as a young boy, Carnegie prospered as a railroad superintendent at age 24. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company connected him with further opportunities, and soon the young entrepreneur had stock in iron, bridge and other railroad-related endeavors.

After helping to defeat the confederation with diligent transportation organization during the Civil War, Carnegie focused his attention on the booming steel industry, which eventually made him the richest man in America.

He believed strongly in the importance of language education, reading, writing and classical literature. When he sold and retired from the Carnegie Steel Company, he had more time to focus on things that really mattered to him.

A passion for philanthropy

Carnegie’s philanthropy affected communities near and far with institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Carnegie Music Hall in New York City to The University of Birmingham, England and the Peace Palace, also known as Vredespaleis, in The Hague, The Netherlands.

Andrew Carnegie, a self-made steel tycoon and philanthropist, built over 2,500 libraries around the world, including 35 in Colorado. The Delta Library is one of the few remaining Carnegie structures still operating for its intended purpose. Photo circa 1913.

Inspired by Enoch Pratt’s free library in Baltimore, Carnegie helped build over 2,500 libraries around the world—35 in Colorado—in addition to supporting universities, hospitals and peace centers. The first Carnegie library was built in Braddock, Pennsylvania in 1888.

Communities that applied for library funding had to meet few simple requirements: the local government had to demonstrate a need for the library, explain how and where they would support it, and promise to keep it free to all citizens.

But this was no handout—Carnegie wanted to see dedication, involvement and interest from within the community. Citizens had to raise their own funding, which the Carnegie foundation would match or exceed.

Eager to have their own library in the expanding community, the Delta Federated Woman’s Club raised an astounding $3,400 in 1909 (about $87,000 today), which the foundation matched with an additional $6,500.

Carnegie libraries were meant to last, so they were made of brick, rather than wood. The Delta Library proudly opened its doors in 1912. Local architect Oscar R. Felmlee created the building with brick cut from a Delta brickyard to bring his simple, neoclassical layout of art to life, with welcoming pillars at the entrance and big, friendly windows on all sides. Today’s library is very much the same as the one the Delta Woman’s Club warmly introduced to the community over 100 years ago.

Protect the library's future

The Delta Library is one of the few Carnegie buildings in Colorado and the U.S. that still operates as a library. While it’s seen several additions and improvements over the years, further restorations are possible with help from a $35,000 grant awarded by the State Historical Fund. Proceeds will help with ADA accessibility, mechanical upgrades and other building improvements, but community help is still needed.

Just like citizens invested in their future by supporting the library over a century ago, show your support for the Delta Carnegie Building Project by visiting www.deltalibraries.org or making a donation in person at 211 W. Sixth St. in Delta.

For more information, call the library at 399-7876.

The Carnegie Steel Company in Youngstown, Ohio, circa 1910.