Andrew Carnegie was a giant of a man, yet he only stood 5 feet 3 inches tall. Like most classic “rags to riches” stories, he came from humble beginnings. His father was a weaver in Scotland who suffered the same fate as many occupations have in the wake of technology and progress. As steam-powered weaving replaced the local craftsmen, the Carnegie Family faced financial hardship. When Andrew was 13 his family borrowed money from a relative and moved to America.
Carnegie’s climb from the slums of Pittsburgh to the mansions of New York paralleled America’s transformation from a sleepy agricultural nation into the world’s foremost industrial power. By 1868 Carnegie, then 33, was worth $400,000 (nearly $5 million today). But his wealth troubled him, as did the ghosts of his radical past. He wrote himself a telling letter, promising that he would stop working in two years and pursue a life of good works: “To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares… must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery.”
For three decades, he dominated the steel industry, and although he allowed himself time for vacations in Scotland and for his troubled courtship of Louise Whitfield, his thoughts rarely strayed from his mills.
With his partner Henry Clay Frick, Carnegie broke the steel unions. His empire grew. By 1900, Carnegie Steel produced more steel than the entire British steel industry. When he sold the company to J.P. Morgan in 1901, Carnegie personally earned $250 million (approximately $4.5 billion today).
Carnegie then turned his enormous energies to philanthropy and the pursuit of world peace, hoping perhaps that donating his wealth to charitable causes would mitigate the grimy details of its’ accumulation. In the public memory, he may have been correct. Today he is most remembered for his generous gifts of music halls, educational grants, and nearly 3000 public libraries. By the time of his death in 1919, he had given away over $350 million (more than $3 billion in 1996 dollars).
For Carnegie, himself a self-educated man, libraries seemed the ideal gift. They appealed to his bootstrap sensibility for self-improvement. Carnegie also acknowledged a handful of other acceptable gifts. In 1889, he presented the seven “wisest” fields of philanthropy, listed in this order:
Universities, Free libraries, Hospitals, Parks, Concert Halls, Swimming Baths, Church Buildings. Carnegie’s list generated more than a few irate letters to the editor from ministers, who were upset to find churches listed behind swimming pools.
Carnegie paid for 2,811 Public Libraries around the world over a 30-year period, at a cost of more than $50 million. Each community was responsible for the design of the building. Each community had to agree to raise 10 percent of the amount of the grant each year for maintenance and upkeep. This was the first time a “tax” was levied by communities for Civic Projects.
In 1898, a group of women met at the Mitchell Hotel to organize the town’s first library. Mrs. Rose Kimball was the initial president.
A house-to-house canvas provided books for the start of the library. Additional books were financed through teas, socials, bazaars, and other entertainment. The first few years the library was housed in rooms provided by the Commercial Club in the Duck Block at the northeast corner of Washington and Cherry.
When the Courthouse was completed in 1908 the County Court offered space to the Library, where it remained until the Carnegie Building was erected.
In 1912 R. A. Buckner was in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on vacation when he met a Representative of the Carnegie
Foundation who was leaving for New York in just a few hours. In that brief time, Mr. Buckner outlined Nevada’s need for a library. He was told to submit a request immediately because the Foundation was planning to discontinue the Library Project. Buckner was also informed that the community had to provide a site and tax revenue for continuing support of the library.
Three Federated Clubs, Tourist, Progress and the Research Clubs, who had long supported the Library, held teas, socials, and entertainment to purchase the site.
In March 1912 an election was held to vote on a City Tax for the support of the Library. It passed with an overwhelming majority. Only 16 votes were cast against it. Women could not vote.
With the requirements met, the Carnegie Foundation made a Grant of $17,500. The new building opened on Sunday, May 12, 1917, complete with speeches and music by Crawford’s Band. Special donors who are recognized on the marble plaque in the entry of the building are East Mantel -Tourist Club, West Mantel – Research Club, Adult Reading Room Furniture – Progress Club, Light Pedestals – High School.
The Nevada library operated in the Carnegie building until the new library building was completed in 1994. The building sat vacant for several years before a local businessman, Randy Battagler who planned to make it a private residence, purchased it. He moved from Nevada before he began any renovations. The building was again empty until Alan and Sarah Randall purchased it.
In the summer of 2005, Greg and Melissa Hoffman acquired the building and began major renovations with an addition to the south side of the building to house an elevator and handicap accessible restrooms. Great care was taken to preserve the grand character of the building and its historical background.
Carnegie Building, 1917
Carnegie Building, Present Day