Carnegie Libraries

The rapid expansion of American cities between 1890 and 1920 created a social environment which concerned many civic leaders. Efforts to counter the perceived vices of urban living included the construction of lending libraries to cultivate the social mores of immigrants and rural migrants.

Women’s societies became particularly adept at taking up the cause of urban gentility. The library as an example of culture and civic values became even more entrenched once the philanthropic donations of Andrew Carnegie provided small towns with capital to construct libraries. These libraries—built after consultation with librarians—prioritized function over form and were typically built in a Neoclassical style, recalling the classical heritage of American democracy.

Montanans were quick to adopt the library as an alternative to the saloons and red light districts still thriving in Montana's towns. Many of the libraries follow guidelines recommended by Carnegie and his secretary James Bertram, although local materials and architectural preferences provide regional distinction. These buildings remain a critical part of the urban fabric and local towns continue to support their use. All but two of the original seventeen Carnegie Libraries are extant and eight are listed in the National Register. Montana's Carnegie libraries continue to provide evidence of the state’s enduring respect for cultural and civic values.

As early as 1888, the Reverend and Mrs. Sidney Hooker of the Episcopal Church launched a book club, laying the foundation for this impressive public library. A town meeting in 1890 established a library association, and soon contributions of books, time, and money for the “free library” yielded a…
View Place | Show on Map

Steel baron Andrew Carnegie viewed public libraries as a key agent of self improvement and donated roughly $41 million for the construction of 1,679 public libraries between 1886 and 1917. The Bozeman Classical Revival landmark, one of seventeen Carnegie libraries erected in Montana, was…
View Place | Show on Map

An alternative to saloons and pool halls, the Big Timber Library stayed open evenings in 1914, with the hope of “not only … educating [people] … in the right way, but keeping them from falling by the wayside, as so many do in these western towns.” Big Timber’s first library, a “branch” of the…
View Place | Show on Map

Seven Carnegie libraries in Montana do not have historical markers. These libraries are in Chinook, Fort Benton, Havre, Livingston, Malta, Miles City, and Missoula. The Carnegie libraries in Glasgow and Great Falls were demolished in 1965.