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Carnegie Library

Philanthropist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie funded the building of almost half of the public libraries in the United States between 1883 and 1929. Included among the 1795 libraries by the"the patron saint of libraries" is the Phoenix Carnegie Library, located along Washington Street, not far from the Arizona State Capitol.

The Phoenix Carnegie Library opened in 1907 and was the city's only library until 1914. It serve as the main branch of the Phoenix Public Library until 1952, after which it has had many uses: senior center, storage building, administration building, homeless shelter, and museum. The building slowly deteriorated and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The building was restored in 1984, after which the state leased it from the City of Phoenix. It reopened as the Arizona Hall of Fame Museum, from 1987 through its closure in 2001. It's been used by the Arizona State Library.

Women reformers led the movement to create the library. The Friday Club--a group of twelve elite women--developed the first library in Phoenix late in the 19th century, as the population began to boom, growing from just over 3000 people in 1890 to a population of 5500 at the turn of the twentieth century. Reformers, including the Phoenix Women's Club, sought funding from Carnegie for the fledgling library. Following the formula laid out by Carnegie that required cities to underwrite the costs of the building site and paid staff, the reformers obtained a $25,000 grant from Carnegie.

Originally staffed by a small staff made up of a staff of women who worked ten-hour days, the organization grew dramatically. Within a decade, the number of books had increased nearly tenfold, as did the training and professional expertise of the staff. In 1917, the Phoenix Public Library began to add branches and expand outward with the city.

Made of red brick and twelve-inch walls, the structure has changed little since its construction, although the surrounding park has gradually given way to the desert climate. Originally, the building was flanked by large walnut trees, and there was a bandshell for concerts and speeches. The grounds also became a place for experimenting to see which plants and trees would thrive in the desert climate. Early photos show that shade trees eventually were supplanted by palms and a more open design, perhaps reflecting the harsh desert summers. Even the building underwent changes to accommodate the climate, including the use of fans and swamp coolers to maintain a comfortable summer temperatures.


Carnegie Public Library in Phoenix
Carnegie Public Library in Phoenix The lush Walnut Trees reveal suggest that this photograph was taken shortly after the library was built. Carnegie funded public library construction on the condition that they be free to the people of their cities, which is suggested by the woman and child in this image. Source: Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records, RG99 Arizona State Library, Archives & Public Records, SG12, Historical Photographs, Print: FL2-5A16; PhD013; Digital: 9806985.jpg. Date: ca. 1910
Carnegie Library Stacks
Carnegie Library Stacks Patrons use the stacks at the Carnegie Library of the Phoenix Public Library. Source: Phoenix Public Library, PHOTO BB1-90. Date: 1948
Librarian Esther Boone
Librarian Esther Boone Librarian Esther Boone stands in front of the Carnegie Public Library in Phoenix. Women's voluntary associations played a vital role in forming the Phoenix Public Library and obtaining funding from Andrew Carnegie. Women also staffed and managed the day-to-day activities of the library, including the professionalization of staff and operations. Miss Boone, for example, was in charge of the newly opened First Avenue Branch in 1918, which was the library system's third facility. Boone later moved to Emporia, Kansas, before returning in 1921 to marry a teller at the National Bank of Phoenix (and World War I veteran.) She and her husband (Alfred Austerman) were prominent enough residents of the growing city to receive notice in the Arizona Republic. They settled a short distance from the Carnegie Library, at 2009 West Monroe Street. Source: Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records, RG99, SG12 Historical Photographs; Digital: 02-0023.jpg; "Branch Library Starting Well," Arizona Republic, March 19, 1918; "Well-Known People Married Here," Arizona Republic, August 23, 1921. Date: 1918
Carnegie Library, Close-up
Carnegie Library, Close-up The more than 2500 libraries built worldwide with funding from Andrew Carnegie bear a distinctive nomenclature: "Carnegie Public Library." Although Carnegie libraries were built in many different architectural styles, they often had similar organization and layout. Source: Alan Levine, Another Carnegie Library, FLICKR, 2013. Creator: Alan Levine Date: 2013
Library Dedicated in 1908
Library Dedicated in 1908 The Carnegie Library at the intersection of Eleventh Avenue and Washington was dedicated on February 14, 1908; it served as main branch of the Phoenix Public Library until 1952. It was also briefly the site of the Arizona Hall of Fame Museum in the early years of the 21st century. In the years after it was built, the park and grounds served as an experimental ground to determine what sorts of plants and trees grew best in the desert. Source: Phoenix Public Library, McClintock Collection, Photo 2:86. Date: ca. 1910
Carnegie Library
Carnegie Library The red brick facade of the Carnegie Library is highlighted against the blue desert sky; the open grounds contrast with early views that show ornamental landscaping that included Walnut Trees. Source: Jasperdo, Carnegie Library, FLICKR, 2015. Creator: Jasperdo Date: 2015
Carnegie Library
Carnegie Library The Carnegie Library as it appeared in 1973, when the Arizona State Parks Board (and Arizona Office of Historic Preservation) were documenting the property for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Source: Arizona State Board of Parks Creator: Arizona State Board of Parks Date: 1973
Delia Button in Carnegie Library Garden
Delia Button in Carnegie Library Garden Delia Button joined the all-female staff at the Carnegie Library in 1912, which she built into a long-term professional career that ended with her retirement in 1950. Standing next to a pine tree, Button's photograph also shows some of the variety of plants and trees that were tested on the grounds of the Carnegie Library. Source: Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, RG 99, SG 12 Historical Photographs, Digital: 02-0034.jpg; "Librarians Promised Steady Job Comes to End After 38 Years," Arizona Republic, May 11, 1950. Date: 1918


SRS Team & Zane Luke, “Carnegie Library,” Salt River Stories, accessed June 24, 2024,