Walla Walla Public Library building is dedicated on December 13, 1905.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 8/13/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8254

On December 13, 1905, dedication ceremonies are held for the newly erected Walla Walla Public Library at 109 Palouse Street. Former Washington Territorial Governor Miles C. Moore (1845-1919) joins civic leaders in welcoming readers and thanking construction underwriter Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919).

Comfortable Chairs and Cozy Rooms

Prominent Walla Walla architect Henry Osterman (b. 1863) designed the building, which library-board-meeting minutes describe as an adaptation of the Herrick Library in Wellington, Ohio. That building (not funded by Carnegie) was designed by Cleveland architect J. Milton Dyer (1870-1951) and dedicated on January 2, 1904.

The Walla Walla Public Library building's exterior was constructed of deep maroon-colored pressed brick from Kansas and grey sandstone from Tenino. The roof was tiled, and much of the interior was finished with oak. Both gas and electric lighting fixtures were installed. The building featured two fireplaces, one on the main level and one in the basement.

On the morning of the library's debut, the Walla Walla Daily Union described the building's interior appointments:

"Comfortable chairs are provided for the patrons of the library and the books and periodicals are neatly and conveniently arranged in beautiful steel book racks and on tables and shelves of the richest woods. A cozy room has been fitted up in the basement for the use of the women's clubs of the city. Every room in the building is heated by steam, which is circulated through artistic radiators" ("The New Library ...).

When the library opened the collection included approximately 4,000 volumes, with additional donations still being sought. Walla Walla residents were notified by letter that book donations, or money to buy new books, were needed. Local clergymen competed against the town's physicians in a fundraising baseball game that yielded $280.75 earmarked for the library.

Early Efforts

Walla Walla's first public library, a small one-story structure at the corner of 3rd Avenue and West Poplar Street, opened in 1878. This building closed in 1887 and the small collection was moved to a room on the second floor of the A. H. Reynolds Building on Main Street. This space was apparently intended as a reading room for young men. By 1890 usage had fallen so low that the books were put into storage.

In 1897 the Women's Reading Club of Walla Walla raised $1,000 to purchase books and library equipment. Margaret Center served as librarian in a space on the second floor of the Paine Building at 2nd Avenue and Main Street. This location served Walla Walla readers until November 29, 1905.

Cash From Carnegie

The Walla Walla Public Library was officially organized and established under state law in 1901.

On March 24, 1901, Walla Walla citizens wrote to steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie requesting $25,000 to fund construction of a permanent library building. Carnegie, who funded library construction of 2,507 libraries worldwide (44 of them in Washington) between 1881 and 1917, agreed to the request on November 18, 1903. On December 1, 1903, the Walla Walla City Council voted to accept Carnegie's gift, which (like all of Carnegie's library grants) came with the stipulation that the community provide the site and cover maintenance of library facilities.

Thomas Coit Elliott (1862-1943), an investment banker who had also served as Whitman College treasurer, and his wife, Anna Baker Elliott (1870-1942), donated the land on which the building was erected. The City of Walla Walla paid for demolition of existing buildings on the site. The Elliotts lived directly across the street. T. C. Elliott served on the library's board of trustees from 1904 until his death in 1943.

John L. Sharpstein (b. 1859) was the first board president. Margaret Center continued her work as librarian and was paid $27.50 a month. On August 10, 1906, the library board hired Florence S. Smith, its first professional librarian. Smith's yearly starting salary was $720. On July 30, 1907 she was replaced by Ellen Garfiled Smith, who served the Walla Walla Public Library for the next 30 years.

A Gala Welcome

Entertained by a musical group that newspapers variously referred to as the Walla Walla Orchestra and as Meckelson's Orchestra, a large crowd of Walla Walla readers strolled eagerly through their new library during the opening reception. The reception was hosted by the Women's Reading Club of Walla Walla, which had also supplied furnishings for a club meeting room located in the south room in the basement.

Marie A. Catron (b. 1869), president of the Women's Reading Club, thanked the library's board of trustees. John L. Sharpstein then welcomed the crowd. The Walla Walla Evening Statesman reported:

"During the course of his remarks he paid a high compliment to Andrew Carnegie for his generosity in providing funds for the erection of the handsome building. He also praised the Walla Walla Commercial Club, the city council, and several citizens who had worked in harmony and succeeded in providing Walla Walla with so credible and institution. Ex-Governor Miles C. Moore spoke briefly in praise of Mr. Carnegie, and paid a high tribute to Mrs. Margaret Center, the librarian, for the fidelity and efficiency she has displayed in her long service" ("Carnegie Library Opened").

Carnegie Art Center

In May 1970, Walla Walla Public Library moved to a new building at 238 E Alder Street. On October 6, 1971, thanks to efforts by the Walla Walla Art Club, Allied Arts Council, Arts Unlimited, and other groups, the Carnegie library building reopened as the Carnegie Center of the Arts. In 1975 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1995 the name was changed to Carnegie Art Center. The center closed in 2014.

Sources: William Denison Lyman, Lyman's History of Old Walla Walla County, Embracing Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin Counties Vol 1 (Chicago: S. J. Clark Publishing, 1918), p. 303; Robert A. Bennett, Walla Walla: A Town Built To Be A City 1900-1919 (Walla Walla: Pioneer Press Books, 1982) p. 32; Maryde Fahey Orr, "Development of the Walla Walla Public Library," (Master's Thesis, University of Washington, August 5, 1953); "Profile," Carnegie Art Center website accessed July 31, 2007 (http://www.carnegieart.com/); "Carnegie Libraries Worldwide," History of Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie Libraries website accessed August 3, 2007 (http://andrewcarnegie.tripod.com/); "Table 1, Distribution of Carnegie Libraries, 1920, Carnegie Libraries: The Future Made Bright" National Parks Service website accessed August 3, 2007 (http://www.nps.gov/); Tracie Marie Dalton, "The Herrick Memorial Library: An Historical Study" (Master's Research Paper, Kent State University, July 1998), ERIC Educational Resources Information Services website accessed August 3, 2007 (http://www.eric.ed.gov/); Theodore Jones, Carnegie Libraries Across America: A Public Legacy  (New York: Preservation Press, 1997); George S. Bobinski, Carnegie Libraries: Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development (Chicago: American Library Association, 1969); "Carnegie Library Opened," The Evening Statesman, December 14, 1905, p. 1; "Library Opens Tonight," Ibid., December 13, 1905, p. 1; "The New Library Is To Be Opened," Walla Walla Daily Union, December 13, 1905, p. 8; Carolyn Henderson, "Artist Scrutinizes Natural World," Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, December 11, 2014 (http://union-bulletin.com/news/2014/dec/11/artist-scrutinizes-natural-world/).
Note: This essay was updated on December 16, 2015.

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