Almost every community in Texas, large and small, has a library. Free for use, these establishments no longer solely contain books but also have movies, computers, and magazines, as well as events and classes. Many utilize their local library today, as well as remember fondly visiting the library in their youth, but access to this wonderful community resource was not always an option.
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Before 1898, there were some libraries in Texas but not nearly enough to service the population. Enter Andrew Carnegie, the American steel mogul who was one of America’s richest people. He believed in charitably giving to those willing to help themselves and embarked on a campaign to build public libraries across the United States. Carnegie donated money to build, but the granted city had to provide the land and fund their own maintenance of the facilities, specifically an annual pledged amount of 10% of the grant. Typically, buildings were designed and constructed with two stories and a basement. Early buildings also included club rooms and auditoriums for potential income via rental fees, but the Carnegie Corporation later refused to approve these expanded plans with rooms for non-library use.
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First in the Lone Star state to receive a grant was Pittsburg, a mining town of fewer than 1,500 inhabitants. Texas eventually became home to 32 Carnegie public libraries, which were constructed with the monies from 34 grants totaling $649,500 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York from 1898 to 1917. This amount in today’s terms would be more like $20,097,231. The last Texas library built with Carnegie funds was in Vernon. Today, 13 of these buildings survive, with five still operating as libraries. Plan a trip alongside posted open hours and catch a glimpse of these beautiful buildings before they are one day demolished. The towns of Ballinger, Bryan, Franklin, Jefferson, and Stamford are the remaining operational book and media oases.