Way Back Wednesday Looks at Wyoming’s Historic “Cowboy Carnegies” – Presented by Mick Pryor, Edward Jones

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The now-famous equation, “knowledge is power” (“scientia potestas est”), was coined by Sir Francis Bacon in 1597. Since then it has been rephrased in a wide variety of contexts from Thomas Hobbes to Michel Foucault. When published in his work, Meditationes Sacrae (1597), the saying: “knowledge itself is power”, he most likely wanted to transmit the idea that having and sharing knowledge is the cornerstone of reputation and influence, and therefore power; all achievements emanate from this.

Established in 1886, when Wyoming was still a territory, the Laramie County Library System (LCLS) located in Cheyenne is the oldest continually operating county library system in the United States. Territorial citizens of Cheyenne rallied for five years to fund the first library building, opened in 1886.

In 1872, the Library Association was formed by forward-thinking citizens, and funds for the purchase of books were raised by entertainments and subscriptions. Citizens of Cheyenne rallied for five years to fund the first library building, established in 1886, when Wyoming was still a territory, on the third floor of the Carey block, with Mrs. E. Mason Smith as the librarian. It was moved to the basement of the Central School in 1897.

Robert Morris, as a representative for the Library Association, sent a plea to Andrew Carnegie for funds in 1899. 

Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was an American industrialist who amassed a fortune in the steel industry then became a major philanthropist. Carnegie worked in a Pittsburgh cotton factory as a boy before rising to the position of division superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1859. 

While working for the railroad, he invested in various ventures, including iron and oil companies, and made his first fortune by the time he was in his early 30s. In the early 1870s, he entered the steel business, and over the next two decades became a dominant force in the industry. In 1901, he sold the Carnegie Steel Company to banker John Pierpont Morgan for $480 million. Carnegie then devoted himself to philanthropy.

Carnegie, a diminutive titan, who was just 5’3” tall, retired from business and devoted himself full-time to philanthropy and in 1889, wrote an essay, “The Gospel of Wealth,” in which he stated that the rich have “a moral obligation to distribute [their money] in ways that promote the welfare and happiness of the common man.” Carnegie also said, “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.”

You could say Carnegie was a firm believer that knowledge indeed represented power, and knowledge was powerful.  As a lover of books, Carnegie was the largest individual investor in public libraries in American history. Through his philanthropic activities, Carnegie funded the establishment of more than 2,500 public libraries around the globe, and in Wyoming 16 libraries were built from 16 grants (totaling $257,500), awarded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York between 1899, when he received that request for funding from Morris, through 1917. As of 2021, 10 of these buildings are still standing in Wyoming, while five continue to operate as libraries.

The first grant for a Carnegie Library was dated December 27, 1899 for $50,000 to construct a library in Cheyenne. The structure was completed at 22nd and Capitol Avenue on May 19, 1902. Carnegie offered the grant of $50,000 if a suitable site could be found for a free public library to be maintained at a yearly cost of not less than $3,000.

The new library opened on the corner of Capitol Avenue and 22nd Street in Cheyenne on May 19, 1902. It was a beautiful building with enviable architecture. Sadly, Carnegie Library was torn down in 1969. The unfortunate demise of Wyoming’s first Carnegie Library was a catalyst for historic preservationists to begin considering structures of historic significance that needed to be saved from demolition.

In 2015, the Alliance for Historic Wyoming’s Cowboy Carnegies Campaign was celebrated in Laramie. (Facebook)

On January 2, 1903, Laramie received a grant for $20,000 and soon after, on February 20, 1903, Evanston received a grant for $11,000 from Carnegie. The library in Laramie at 405 East Grand Avenue is no longer used as a library but houses government offices, like the City Building Department. In Evanston the library was completed in 1906 and today houses the Uinta County Museum and Chamber of Commerce.

On March 18, 1904 a grant in the amount of $12,500 was awarded for a Carnegie Library in Sheridan. Completed in 1905, the building was demolished in 1974.

On December 8, 1905 a grant was made in the amount of $20,000 to fund a library in Green River located at 177 North Center Street. The Carnegie Library was completed in 1906 but today houses the Circuit Court for Sweetwater County in Green River.

In 1906, one day before St. Valentine’s Day, on February 13, a grant was provided in the amount of $13,000 for construction of a Carnegie Library in Casper located at 2nd and Durbin Streets. That library was completed in 1910, but was demolished in May and June of 1970.

Fremont County Library in Lander shows how new construction is married with the original Carnegie Library (photo from Fremont County Library System-Lander Facebook Page)

In the same year, on November 27, 1906, Lander received a grant in the amount of $15,000 for construction of a Carnegie Library that opened in 1907 at 451 North 2nd Street. The Fremont County Library System has undergone  major renovation and new construction adjacent to the original building. The original building, which is one of the most beautiful and historical buildings in Lander, remains in use today with it’s fantastic Carnegie Room used for meetings, traveling authors to read from their books and conduct books signings and has even provided a wonderful alternative to a scheduled outdoor celebration on the last day of school to kick of the summer reading program when Mother Nature dropped snow on Lander in May of 2019.

On December 13, 1907 a grant in the amount of $12,500 for construction of a Carnegie Library at 400 C Street in Rock Springs. The building was completed and opened to the public in 1910. While the building has undergone extensive alterations, it remains the home of the Sweetwater County Library as well as the Community Fine Arts Center. The Community Fine Arts Center exists to support the maintenance and expansion of the art collection and enrichment opportunities in visual and performing arts for Sweetwater School District #1, the City of Rock Springs and Sweetwater County. It is maintained by a partnership between the Sweetwater County Library System, Sweetwater School District #1 and the City of Rock Springs.

In 1908 both Basin and Douglas received grants for construction of Carnegie Libraries; $17,000 and $10,000 respectively. The library in Douglas at 300 Walnut Street was completed in 1911, but demolished on September 8, 1966. The library in Basin was razed in 1954. 

The roof on the Carnegie Library bldg of the museum complex is complete! We are excited to know that generations will continue to see one of Wyoming’s “Cowboy Libraries” due to preservation. (April 12, 2021 from Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum Facebook Page)

On January 14, 1909 a grant in the amount of $12,500 made possible the construction of the Carnegie Library at 90 North Main Street in Buffalo. That building was completed in the same year and is now graciously preserved. The Historic Johnson County Carnegie Library is now the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum in Buffalo, Wyoming, welcoming visitors from near and far. 

On February 20, 1911, Newcastle received a grant in the amount of $12,500 for the Carnegie Library at 23 West Main Street. Completed in 1911 the building and location remain the home of the Weston County Library

On April 13th, 1914, a grant in the amount of $15,000 was awarded for a Carnegie Library in Cody. The structure was completed in 1916, but demolished in 1965.

On May 16, 1916 funds were made available through a Carnegie grant for a new library in Wheatland at 904 9th Street. This building was completed in 1917, then completely enclosed by a 1965 addition and remains the home of the Platte County Public Library

On April 3, 1917 the grant for the 16th and final Carnegie Library in Wyoming was made in the amount of $12,500 for construction of the last Carnegie Library in The Cowboy State at 328 Arapahoe Street, Thermopolis. Completed in 1919, the building now houses Hot Springs County government offices. The original library is preserved in architecture and nestled behind the current Hot Springs County Public Library

(Niobrara County Library Facebook Page)

For construction of the Carnegie Library located at 425 South Main Street in Lusk, a grant was given in the amount of $11,000 on May 8, 1914. We’ve saved this one for last for several reasons. First, the the building was not completed for nearly five years, however this library is visually stunning and shows a beautiful preservation of the original architecture while it remains a vibrant hub of activities for library patrons of all ages. 

The structure was completed in 1919, the same year that benefactor Andrew Carnegie died. Carnegie died at the age 83 on August 11, 1919, at Shadowbrook, his estate in Lenox, Massachusetts. He was buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in North Tarrytown, New York.

Providing a wealth of historical information as well as genealogy, children’s programs and events there truly is something for everyone at the Niobrara County Library.

Many of us are old enough to recall a class in school on libraries resulting in vague memories of terms like fiction and non-fiction, the Dewey decimal system and card catalogs. And many Wyomingites are fortunate to have visited a Carnegie Library. While many things have changed, some of the most captivating architecture has been preserved and today houses some of the most popular, vibrant and active libraries in Wyoming that offer so much to citizens. Seek out your nearest library, find out what they have to offer,  join a book club and remember: Knowledge is Power. Certainly if you can make a trip whether on your way or out of your way, allow yourself to be awed by one of the remaining active Carnegie Libraries in The Cowboy State!

This page from Wyoming’s rich history has been presented by Mick Pryor, Edward Jones Financial Advisor. While we can’t change the past, a financial strategy for the future can be planned. If you have questions, concerns or are simply looking for a friendly advisor to discover your goals, discuss strategy and look to your financial future, contact Mick Pryor today.

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