Many public libraries began in the United States when organizations collected books that were shared. In many cases, temporary locations were used for various types of library organizations. These operations were influenced by Ben Franklin’s example of a lending library creation here in the States. But public libraries became part and parcel of American life when organizations started seeking funds from Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to build a suitable “permanent locations.” Carnegie generally required that the requesting entity have suitable real estate on which to build the library and secured funding for operations and continued expenses. In this way, Carnegie funded over 1400 grants.

By requiring a means of financial support for the libraries, often the local governments became involved and citizens began assuming a financial role. The idea of public support for libraries had not been widely demonstrated before Carnegie. At some point, Americans started taking pride in their libraries and welcomed their role in support. Still many leading citizens of wealth contributed funds as well and certain groups of citizens, friends of the library, continue to be very important to libraries.

According to the Danville Public Library website, various collections of books were consolidated to form the Danville Public Library in 1883. Library space was rented for over twenty years. Then, the Board of Trustees applied to Andrew Carnegie for funds to build a library. Carnegie granted the city $40,000 and construction began in 1903. The Danville Library was designed by the architectural firm of Patton and Miller that designed more than 80 public libraries. The building is a small example of the Beaux Arts Classicism. The Danville Public Library building is on the National Register of Historical Places.

On November 7, 1904, the Danville Public Library, on 307 N. Vermilion Street was opened.  A couple decades later, a $5,000 bequest from longtime library trustee Augustus Webster, was used to build a needed stack room behind the circulation desk in 1929.

The Carnegie Library was beautiful, but the space had been outgrown by the community quite early on. New real estate near the existing library became available in 1990s on which to build a new modern library.   The Board of Trustees worked on a plan for the new library. Substantial funding came from the City Council ($2.5 million). The Danville Library Foundation  raised $1.5 million from private citizens. Another $400,000 was provided to the project in the form of a State of Illinois library construction grant which allowed for purchase of new shelving and furnishings for the new two-story 39,800 square foot building.

On  September 29, 1995, the general contractor, English Brothers of Champaign, turned over the new Public Library to Danville. The grand opening for the new Danville Public Library was held on November 7, 1995, exactly 91 years to the day the Carnegie building opened to Danville residents.

Many Carnegie Libraries, like the Carnegie Danville Library, were built from brick and stone. Expanding and updating them in not necessarily easy. They are sometime raised, some are artfully restored and expanded, some are repurposed, and some in smaller communities have remained in almost their original condition. The need to add computers and internet access has affected almost every one of them.

Often the decision of what to do with a Carnegie Library is determined by the size of the original structure and the needs of the community. The old Carnegie Library Building in Danville has been repurposed to house the Vermilion County War Museum.

Background information was taken from Danville Public Library  Website, documents from the United States Department of Interior National Park Service National Register of Historic Places, and other sources.

Image: Danville Public Library building now Vermilion County War Museum.

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