Built in 1913, the Carnegie Library at Fourth and Kimbark Streets in Longmont served as the city’s public library until 1972, when it was remodeled to house city offices. The Longmont Carnegie Library was one of thousands of similar libraries donated to communities across the United States by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. In the 1990s, the city considered demolishing the library but met with intense local resistance, and the building was saved and rehabilitated. Today it houses the local public access TV station.
Carnegie’s Gift to Longmont
Members of the Chicago-Colorado Colony, an agricultural settlement in eastern Boulder County, established the city of Longmont in 1871. That year the town set up Colorado’s first public library, Library Hall, but most of its 300 books were lost over the following year. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union set up another library in the 1880s. Although that one lasted a bit longer, it was continually short on funds.
Meanwhile, in the early 1880s, steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie began donating some of his vast fortune to the construction of public libraries in communities across the nation and world. In exchange for building the libraries, Carnegie required that municipalities provide the site and contribute an annual maintenance fee of 10 percent of the building’s cost. The deal was controversial in many communities because it often meant raising taxes to maintain the building.
Longmont was no exception, even though by the turn of the century its existing library was crowded and running out of shelf space. The Longmont Ledger repeatedly invoked the popularity of the old library and its growing inadequacies to argue for the construction of a Carnegie Library, but the public was not entirely convinced. In the spring of 1905, the City Council held a meeting to gauge public support, and the Ledger reported a split of ten residents for and four against (a storm kept many residents from attending).
It took a couple more years of convincing, but by January 1908, the City Council established a Library Board and informed Carnegie that Longmont would accept a library. Carnegie sent the city $12,500 for the building; the next controversy came over where to put it. It came down to either Thompson Park, at Fifth Avenue and Bross Street, or City Hall, between Third and Fourth Avenues and Kimbark. The Ledger opined that the City Hall site would be more practical, but Thompson Park would be more attractive. Eventually, the City Hall site was chosen, but in 1908 Longmont voters refused to impose a tax to acquire the land. Thanks to efforts by the Library Board and a few wealthy residents, by 1912 the city finally acquired the site and construction began. Longmont’s Carnegie Library opened to the public in January 1913.
Longmont’s Library, 1913–1972
The Longmont Carnegie Library is a single-story, rectangular structure built in the Renaissance Revival style, with a sandstone foundation and walls of light yellow fired brick. Its north-facing entrance is covered by a portico and flanked by simple rectangular windows. The library began with a collection of 4,600 books.
True to the Ledger’s 1905 prediction, the new library was immensely popular with residents. In 1916 it began a story hour for children, and the following year it raised $601 in a “books for soldiers” drive. By the 1930s, the number of books in its collection had nearly quadrupled, at around 16,000.
The library kept adding to its collections over the years, but not its space. By the 1960s, its collection was literally overflowing, with some 22,000 books, as well as vinyl records, magazines, and other media filling up odd spaces such as the coal bin, furnace room, and the tops of radiators.
Finally, after the city approved plans for a new library next door, the Carnegie Library closed on August 7, 1972. The new library opened a little more than a week later, right next door.
The Longmont Carnegie Library served as the home of several city departments until 1991, when a bond measure for a new library was approved, casting doubt over the building’s future. Designers of the new library proposed an adjacent park at the current site of the Carnegie Library, and the City Council considered relocating or demolishing the building. But residents jammed City Council meetings in protest, and the library building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. After a protracted fight, in 1994 the City Council voted 4-3 to preserve the Carnegie Library building. From 1994 to 1996, the city used $183,173 in grants from the State Historical Fund to repair and restore the building.
Once the building was rehabilitated, the Longmont Channel, Longmont’s public access TV station, moved in as tenants. The station still operates out of the Carnegie building today.