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Did Wilmington turn down a Carnegie library?

Ben Steelman
StarNews
The main reading room of the New Hanover County Public Library when it was located on the second floor of City Hall during the 1920s. Photo courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library

The main reading room of the New Hanover County Public Library when it was located on the second floor of City Hall during the 1920s. Photo courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library

Yes, according to local history librarian Jennifer Daugherty of the New Hanover County Public Library.

Andrew Carnegie, the tycoon who built up the U.S. steel industry, devoted much of his later life to philanthropy. Between 1883 and 1929, he and his foundations funded and built more than 2,500 libraries across the United States, Canada and the British isles.

In 1901, Carnegie’s organization apparently approached the city of Wilmington, offering to give the city a library building at no charge. To accept the grant, however, the city would have to accept an obligation to pay $2,500 per year in operating expenses. The Board of Aldermen turned that offer down, apparently considering the cost too much of a burden on taxpayers. (The story is told in “A Century of Stories,” a centennial history of the New Hanover County Public Library by Beverly Tetterton.)

At this point, the North Carolina Sorosis stepped in. Founded in Wilmington in 1895 and among the oldest women’s clubs in the state, Sorosis devoted itself to community betterment. Among other activities, members maintained a private lending library.

Sorosis members began campaigning for a public library in 1901 and lobbied city officials persistently. In the meantime, they opened temporary libraries, first in the Masonic Temple building on Front Street, then in the Odd Fellows building on South Third Street.

Eventually, the Aldermen caved in and voted $1,200 a year for library maintenance. The public library formally opened on Dec. 1, 1906 in City Hall/Thalian Hall, in what is now the City Council chambers on the second floor.

Sorosis members followed up in 1908 by donating their entire library, some 1,700 volumes, to the city’s public library.

RELATED LINKS:

What is the North Carolina Sorosis?

How much does the NHC library lose to damaged books, and how much does it collect in fines?

User-contributed question by:
Walter Bowden

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