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Andrew Carnegie - History of the Library

Born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1835, this son of a handloom weaver emigrated with his family to the USA in 1848. They settled in Pittsburgh. His first job at the age of 13 paid just $1.20 a week but by the time he was thirty he was earning almost $50,000 per year. He went on to become the head of a vast steel empire, sold in 1901 for $400 million. He died in New York in 1919.

Andrew Carnegie believed that the rich were merely trustees of their wealth and should distribute it for the benefit of mankind. By the time of his death, he had given away $350 million to provide free public libraries, church organs, schools and colleges and he had established the many trusts and foundations which continue to this day.

Although Mr. Carnegie's generosity was well intentioned, Brockville citizens still had their doubts, as seen by this article in the Brockville Recorder, published on June 25, 1903 (Author unknown):

 

"Carnegie Library! Sole Subject of Discussion at Last Night's Public Meeting"

 

The public meeting held last night in Victoria Hall to discuss the Carnegie Library grant and other municipal matters was well attended by about two hundred representative citizens. Among those who were not present was Mr. Buckman, Chairman of the Finance Committee, who solicited the grant for Brockville and who has been one of the main movers in the matter. Other members of the town council were conspicuous by their absence. The meeting proved to be devoted almost exclusively to the Carnegie grant though a couple of the speakers were ill advised enough to give it a political twist, one by charging the mayor with vote-getting and the other by declaiming about the evils of "high tariff".

 

The meeting was plainly hostile to the Carnegie grant and showed its resentment plainly and audibly. There was considerable unnecessary delay in opening the meeting but finally E. Clint was selected as Chairman and William Fitzsimmons suggested that the proposed Carnegie grant be taken up first. D.S. Booth was the first speaker called to the platform. He read at length from a magazine article upon the subject of acceptance of "tainted" money for public grants such as libraries, the general train of the article being that money might be taken without question. Concluding, Mr. Booth said that in his opinion if Mr. Carnegie offered his money, it should be taken.

 

Rev. F. D. Woodcock did not attend the meeting with an expectation of being called on to speak but did come to listen and learn. He had been watching the question with a great deal of interest and thought that even yet it is an open question. He thought too that in the discussion of it there was a certain amount of sentiment displayed by those wishing to refuse the grant. Sentiment, he thought, should not be taken into consideration. As an instance showing that money acquired in a way that many thought questionable might be put to good use he cited the example of Mr. Gooderham's large gifts for charitable and religious purposes, and thought there was no more wrong to take Carnegie's money made cut out of steel and iron than it was to take Mr. Gooderham's money made from the whiskey business.

D. Downey thought that those who called the meeting should speak first. Before taking the platform to speak he would much prefer to hear the arguments to be advanced by those who called the gathering. John A. Johnston came to listen to men who wanted to talk against the acceptance of the Carnegie grant.

 

Geo. Tompkins asked the speaker to state the terms of the proposed Carnegie grant. Mr. Johnston said that the terms are as plain as A.B.C. The town is to give a site and Mr. Carnegie will give $15,000 conditional that 10 percent will be paid yearly for its maintenance. The whole business with regard to the grant to Brockville had so far been done through a secretary of Mr. Carnegie and the speaker thought that Mr. Carnegie himself does not know and probably never will know whether Brockville will have a library or not. All that the town is asked for is to provide a site and maintain the library at an annual cost of 10 per cent of the amount asked for. In order to obtain this grant all that is required is that the town council pass a resolution accepting it and of course this resolution can only be binding for one year or during the tenure of office of the council that passes it.

 

Some person in the audience here interjected a very pertinent question asking whether Mr. Johnston had any correspondence relating to the subject and said that if he had it should be read.

 

Mr. Johnston replied that he had seen the correspondence but did not produce or read any.

 

W. H. Davis said he has come to the meeting to hear the terms of the Carnegie grant. He did not think that Mr. Carnegie was not going to hand over $15,000 to the town without any correspondence or binding agreement with the acceptance of the grant. And as to the annual cost of maintenance, estimated at $1,500 he said that the actual cost of these things always exceeded their estimates. He would like to hear the matter discussed on a proper business basis.

Mayor Harrison was then called upon and upon taking the platform was received with hearty applause and was listened to with keen expectant interest. He said that the questions asked were very pertinent and proper. The people have a right to know what correspondence has been passed with the trustees or agents of the Carnegie fund. He understood that there have been some correspondence but he had not been able to see it. He thought that Mr. Carnegie would not invest $15,000 here for nothing and also thought that Brockville does not want a new and expensive library. As to the cost of maintenance of the proposed new library he said that Brockville already knew from experience that first estimates are always too low.


He then referred to the first estimate made with regard to the Brockville public library at the time that institution was taken over by the town in 1895. The cost of maintenance was then estimated at $850 and that estimate has been increased until now the cost is over $1,400 per year. He felt confident that with such a building as that proposed to be erected by the Carnegie grant the annual cost of maintenance could not be kept down to $1,500 and he thought it would cost more like $2,500 a year which is too heavy a burden for the town to bear. The completion of the Victoria Hall improvements he believed to be a matter of more direct interest to the town. He believed that these improvements should be completed without delay and then people would have a good library of their own at a much lower annual cost than if the Carnegie library were built. He also believed that if any new building should be undertaken by the town it ought to be a fire hall. He looked upon the taking of the library grant much the same as if debentures were issued.

Despite a controversy over the issue of the grant, the town of Brockville finally came to a decision. Though Mr. Fulford only returned to a sod-breaking event that autumn, the Carnegie Library building opened in August of 1904.

 

Here is yet another article; this one appeared in the Tuesday, May 5, 1903 edition of The Evening Recorder.


"Carnegie Library Grant Accepted"

 

Captain Buckman stated that after considerable correspondence with the representative of Mr. Andrew Carnegie regarding a grant for a public library in Brockville, all the information required had been given, and he has received from Mr. Carnegie's secretary a letter stating that a grant of $15,000 would be given on the usual conditions. This communication had already been published in the press. It required an expenditure of $1,500 a year for maintenance. The government grant was $200 per annum which left a balance of $1,300 to be raised by the town. This was $200 more than the amount now paid by the council for the support of the library.

 

A couple of months later, one last article appeared in "The Evening Recorder" regarding the acceptance of Mr. Carnegie's donation from a prominent member of the community. This was an Editorial, dated July 3, 1903.

 

"Dear Sir -- Before leaving on a trip to England, I desire to place before the people of Brockville my position regarding the Carnegie public library grant. ... It was I who first brought the matter up in this year's council and urged that application be made to Mr. Carnegie ... in this I am glad to say I was backed up by a majority of the council ... Mr. Carnegie agreed to give us the amount we asked for ($15,000) and the council has accepted his generous offer. ... The present library premises are entirely inadequate ... so it seemed to me that the only thing to do was erect a building for its special use. The obtaining of a grant from Mr. Carnegie makes this possible without one cent of expense to the rate-payers of this town (in construction costs at least). Why then not accept it and give our mechanics employment on its erection? When I return in the fall I hope to see the building erected".


--- Center Ward Alderman John H. Fulford

 

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