Cowboy Carnegies

LARAMIE, Wyo. (February, 2017) – The Alliance for Historic Wyoming (AHW) is celebrating historic Carnegie library buildings around Wyoming with a traveling exhibit.  The exhibit will be on display at the Park County Public Library in Cody from Monday, February 6, through Friday, March 10.

The exhibit is sponsored in part by a grant from Wyoming Humanities.  On SundayMarch 5 at 1:30 p.m., David Cunningham, director of the Meeteetse Museums and a board member for the Alliance for Historic Wyoming, will give a presentation on the history of Carnegie Libraries in Wyoming.  The presentation is free and open to the public.

“The community dedication shown by the construction and continued maintenance of Carnegie library buildings should not be forgotten,” says AHW Executive Director Carly-Ann Anderson.  “Like school buildings, churches, and neighborhoods, Wyoming’s Carnegie libraries are architectural gems and community landmarks.”

The Park County Library was created in 1906 by the Women’s’ Club of Cody.  The first location for the library was a small stone building about 20 square feet in area.  It was one room, and the back wall was not a true wall, but rather a few boards nailed up where a wall should be.  In 1910 the community pursued a Carnegie Public Library Grant, but the town had a population of just 1,132 and was considered too small for a Carnegie Library building.  Also, in 1910 Cody was still a part of Big Horn County, and therefore not eligible for the grant as it was not a county seat.

In 1911, Park County split from Big Horn County, and in 1914 the Park County commissioners appointed a board for a public library system.  The city council immediately applied again for a Carnegie Public Library Building grant.  The local correspondent to the Carnegie Foundation for Cody was Reverend Morten Joslin.  In a letter to Carnegie’s secretary, James Bertram, Joslin suggested the possibility of contacting Colonel W.F. Cody, who was visiting New York City at that time.

It’s possible that the famous “Buffalo Bill” himself had a hand in establishing a Carnegie Library in Cody.  The application was successful and on April 13, 1914, Cody was awarded a grant for $15,000.  The library opened in 1916.  Librarian Mabel Wilkinson, who came from college at Greeley, Colorado, and who had assisted the Platte County free library in Wheatland, was secured to organize the collections.

The Park County Library Carnegie Building was demolished in 1965, less than 50 years after its construction, and replaced with a new building.  In 2008, the Park County Public Library moved to its current facilities at 1500 Heart Mountain Avenue.

The Cowboy Carnegies campaign is part of the AHW’s “This Place Matters” program, highlighting the importance of preserving historic buildings and oral history accounts of historic places and spaces in Wyoming.

Carnegie libraries were so named because of the philanthropic generosity of Andrew Carnegie.  Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of 1,689 libraries across the country between 1889 and 1919 through construction grants to communities large and small. Wyoming had 16 Carnegie libraries, built between 1899 and 1917, a remarkable number for a state with a small and dispersed population. Today, just 10 Carnegie libraries remain standing, and five are still used as libraries. Carnegie libraries represent a fascinating era in community development in the United States, when philanthropic funds and local initiatives combined to create free public libraries that became centers of community learning and gathering.

The exhibit, which consists of five panels detailing the history and architecture of Wyoming’s sixteen Carnegie libraries, will travel from Basin to Cody, where a Carnegie Library was constructed in 1916 and demolished in 1965.  If your library, museum, or institution is interested in hosting the exhibit, you can contact the Alliance for Historic Wyoming at 307-333-3508 or by email at [email protected]  The Alliance for Historic Wyoming is currently scheduling for late 2017.

You can read a series of articles on the history of the libraries and an interactive map of their locations on the AHW website. These projects are funded in part by a grant from Wyoming Humanities.  The AHW is in the process of evaluating sites in hopes to nominate several of the state’s Carnegie libraries to the National Register of Historic Places, says Anderson. Four of these libraries are already on the National Register or included in historic districts.

“We strongly urge Wyoming’s cities and counties to continue using these spaces, and we want to celebrate these preservation accomplishments in Wyoming through our Cowboy Carnegies campaign,” says Andrea Graham, the chair of the campaign.

The Alliance for Historic Wyoming is a statewide historic preservation nonprofit dedicated to protecting Wyoming’s historic places and spaces. To learn more, visit HistoricWyoming.org.

Contact:
Carly-Ann Anderson
(307) 333-3508
[email protected]