The Ohio Carnegie Libraries of Architect Frank Packard

If you have read my other blog entitled “Iron Master Makes Gift”: Carnegie Library at Otterbein University, then skip the narrative below (as it is a repeat) and scroll to the pictures.

About Carnegie Free Public Libraries

Andrew Carnegie once said “the man who dies rich, dies disgraced.” And thus, the self-made Scottish immigrant who built Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Steel Company into the largest steel manufacturer in the world proceeded to give away his vast wealth.

The first free public library funded by a Carnegie grant opened in Fairfield, Iowa, in 1893 (still standing). Over the course of the next approximately 30 years an additional 1,688 libraries opened including 111 in Ohio ( Of that total, 70% were built in towns with populations of 10,000 or fewer and for under $20,000 in cost. Grant amounts were based on $2-$3 per resident. Requirements to receive a grant included demonstrating need for a public library, providing a building site, and an ability to provide support and maintenance at an annual amount of 10% of the grant. At program’s end, there were 3,500 public libraries in the U.S. with half of those funded by Carnegie grants. Over 800 additional buildings were constructed in other countries.

When Carnegie’s grant program began, there were no architectural restrictions. Communities designed buildings that had excessive waste (at the expense of the intended use) such as grand entry halls, colonnades, marble trim, vaulted domes, rooms devoted to art or other non-library purpose, etc. By 1904, Carnegie’s private secretary James Bertram began reviewing blueprints to ensure functional library layouts that avoided such waste. Later, he prepared a pamphlet suggesting 6 floor plans for small libraries housed on a main floor including a partially exposed basement with large windows and a flight of steps leading up to the front door. State library associations picked up this effort of restraint. The most common resulting façade design used by architects became referred to as the Carnegie Classical. About a fourth of all Carnegies are of this design.

In 1919, the grant program funding construction of Carnegie libraries ended. By the close of World War II, these buildings were 40 to 50 years old and their demise had begun. Suburbs developed and city centers decayed as population shifted outward. Carnegies were converted to other uses, demolished for parking needed by adjacent businesses, replaced by one-story buildings without basements, or razed by the urban renewal movement of the 1960’s. A major handicap to these buildings was the flight of steps that limited access. The remedies lead to severely altering the original facades. Fortunately, the preservation movement born after the urban renewal movement has saved many Carnegies in their original exterior appearance though the use and thus the interiors have changed.

About Carnegie Academic Libraries

Most of the above information was obtained from Theodore Jones’ book Carnegie Libraries Across America, published in 1997, which is an extensive history of the Carnegie libraries built in this country. Oddly, there is no mention of a second category of Carnegie libraries…academic libraries. In Ohio, 7 academic libraries were built at these locations: Cedarville University, Heidelberg University, Marietta College, Miami University, Oberlin College, Otterbein University, and Wilberforce University. All still stand. The library at Athens was opened as a free public library and was shared with Ohio University. In the cities of Marietta and Tiffin (Heidelberg), both an academic and a public library were Carnegie-funded.

Per Wikipedia, 109 academic libraries were constructed in 32 states plus the District of Columbia. Pennsylvania has the most at 9 followed by Iowa, Kansas and Ohio at 7 each. Of the 109, 19 have been razed while 15 have been added to the National Register of Historic Places including the libraries at Heidelberg, Otterbein and Wilberforce. Only a handful of those remaining retain either their original library use or a new specialized library use. Andrew Carnegie had a preference for African-American academic institutions, and 16 received grants including Wilberforce. No information has been found regarding the purpose of grants awarded to academic institutions.

Published 2/3/2021 by Don Foster.

A native of Delaware, Ohio, Frank Packard began his architecture practice in Columbus in 1889/90. He would likely be considered Ohio’s most prolific and best known architect. Sadly, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 57 in 1923.
Built in 1904 at 32 Park Place, Athens, OH. Today the building would be unrecognizable both inside and outside to library patrons. It was changed in 1930 to become the home of
Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism as shown below.
Built 1904 at 800 Steubenville Avenue, Cambridge, OH. Still a library as shown below.
Built 1904 at 127 South North Street, Washington Court House, OH. An addition has been made at each end. Still a library as shown below.
Rendering of the Washington Court House design, The Columbus Dispatch 4/19/1903.
Built 1905 at 46 West Main Street, Norwalk, OH. Still a library as shown below.
Built 1908 at 102 West College Avenue, Otterbein University, Westerville, OH. Placed on the
National Register of Historic Places. Today the building houses the Office Of Admission, below.
Packard designed the Jackson, OH library, first sketch above, but the town was unable to raise the required matching amount. Design looks very similar to the Otterbein design.
Built 1910 at 426 Central Avenue, Miamisburg, OH. The building appeared to be empty when the pictures below were taken summer 2020. I think the rounded back side of the building is interesting and unique.
Built 1910 at 350 East Spring Street, Miami University, Oxford, OH. General contractor was
Henry J. Karg of Westerville who also built the Otterbein University library. Today the building houses the Department of Architecture and Interior Design, below.
Built in 1912 at 178 South 3rd Avenue, Middleport, OH.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1910. Ugh.
Still Middleport’s library today.
Built 1914 at 224 West Johnson Street, Upper Sandusky, OH.
Today the building houses a doctor’s office, below.
There is a Wikipedia website for every state where a Carnegie library was built. Ohio’s was missing pictures for almost 50 of the libraries…which had been missing since 2009. I turned to a former co-worker friend of mine for help. Colleen worked through the complexity of obtaining pictures and permissions to make Ohio’s website about the only one in the U.S. that is 100% picture-complete. It took 9 months.
Frank Packard’s name was added to all 9 of his Ohio designs.
Mary Ellen Armentrout, Otterbein University Class of 1966 and former Otterbein librarian, authored a history of Ohio’s Carnegie libraries. The project was featured in the Spring 1998 issue of the University’s alumni magazine Towers, above and below.
The finished product. 2002.
Mary Ellen is quoted in the above Columbus Dispatch article of 2016.
Mary Ellen’s follow-up publication includes interviews with 31 adults who reflect on their childhood years as frequenters of their hometown Carnegie libraries. And the book’s title as explained in the introduction: I knew at some point in the project the title of the book would come to me. It did early on in the interview of Sheila Sullivan McIntyre about the Algona, Iowa, library. She said: “We always knew when Miss Annis was coming because she was knock kneed and her stockings sang.” It was perfect and captured the essence of the book.
Theodore Jones’ history of Carnegie libraries is a great read. One section I found particularly interesting contains pictures of, as the author states, “the sometimes shocking 1970’s and 1980’s solutions to accessibility problems.” Fortunately, the Ohio Packard’s have been spared this fate.
Fergus Falls, MN, before and after.
Dowagiac, MI, before and after.

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