The Crookston Carnegie Public Library was built between 1907 and 1908 after the Crookston Library Board purchased a site and appealed to wealthy industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie for funds. The City of Crookston had to wait four years before finally securing $17,500 from Carnegie to build the library.
Local Crookston architect Bert D. Keck prepared plans with contractor Charles Ross and, although the foundation stone bears the year of construction as ‘1907’, the Crookston Carnegie Public Library officially opened in 1908.
The Carnegie Library is one of 65 public libraries built in Minnesota with funds from Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Corporation. Over a span of 18 years, between 1899 and 1917, Carnegie contributed close to 1 million dollars towards library construction in the state.
According to the Polk County Historical Society, Carnegie had an intent of establishing Public Free Libraries across rural America and, after years of requests and citizens and various clubs bringing in books, art pieces, decor and a piano to help furnish the new library, the Carnegie Library’s dedication ceremony in Crookston was held on Andrew Carnegie’s 71st birthday - November 27, 1908.
The Carnegie building served as the community library until a new library facility was built on an adjacent site in 1984, now the Crookston Public Library. The former Carnegie library was then purchased by the Polk County Historical Society and, after renovations, houses the historical society’s archives.
The library was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 10, 1984.
The building’s description, offered by placeography.org, is as follows: “The Crookston Carnegie Public Library is a one storey Classical Revival style building with a raised basement of dressed stone. The building is faced with buff-colored pressed brick and has a flat roof with a panelled brick parapet. The main facade has rectangular windows located between brick pilasters and is dominated by a central projecting portico. The portico consists of a pediment supported by four free-standing Ionic columns. Three ornamental stone pieces sit atop the pediment and the tympanum of the pediment has a round window with a garland motif surround. The entablature is also decorated with the words 'Carnegie Public Library' inscribed in Gothic style lettering on the architrave.
The small central dome that was topped with an orb-shaped finial has since been removed.
At the time of construction the interior rooms were divided by dark oak Ionic columns which were reflective of the exterior design features.”
Additional information from a 2012 story on the Carnegie Building from Crookston Daily Times intern Katie Davidson:
Once the library became more developed, in 1926, a “Read With a Purpose” course was added to help community members select material suited to their taste, giving the most returns on reading time available.
The library was also used as an outreach center for community service, including a drive Miss Elizabeth Lommen, the 1918 librarian, joined to donate books to servicemen through the Library Wars Services of the American Library Association for overseas soldiers and sailors on naval ships and transports. During the war years, 400 books were gathered for boys at Camp Cody, along with $800 raised by the town and county.
The building was not changed physically by the Works Progress Administration (which resulted in the construction of the Crookston Sports Arena), but in December of 1936, the Library of Congress, through a WPA grant, allocated funds for a talking book machine to aid the blind, especially those unable to read braille. In 1942, the library was designated as a war information center by the federal government. It was also designated by the WPA as one of the five civilian defense council war information centers in the district, to cooperate with national defense and war efforts and to have on hand vital information on aspects of war that affect civilian life.
Since that time, the building was nominated for the National Register by the Minnesota State Historical Society, on March of 1984, and was placed on the Registry in June of that year.
With concern that the Carnegie Library may be a distraction for the new library, there was talk of demolishing the building, with the Crookston City Council being split on the issue of preservation or demolition. But the decided on saving the building when new enthusiasm and public spirit for the former library arose in the community.
Originally, the plan was to have the old library serve as a library of sorts for historic newspapers and books currently housed at Polk County Historical Society’s Pioneer Museum. Chamber of Commerce offices, Crookston Police headquarters and an Italian restaurant were also taken into consideration for the building’s use. The Historical Society obtained the building from the city in 1988 and has made its restoration and preservation a priority ever since. It will again serve the area by preserving books and documents.
The Carnegie Library is still in close-to-original condition, with its only major change being the removal of its dome due to leakage problems. The Polk County Historic Society has made it its mission to restore much of the building’s originality, but have made necessary changes in order to preserve the historic building.
Volunteers on the board have been involved in the building’s clean-up, including running an inventory of the library’s books.
“The Carnegie library was originally meant to be a noiseless place for reading and studying, but little did the people who built this structure know that the acoustics were more like what you would want to experience at a Carnegie Hall performance,” said local historian Kristina Gray after a 2016 event at the Carnegie. “The Carnegie intends to serve as a place for more choral or band concerts, art displays, lectures, receptions, reunions or whatever there is a demand for. The committee is happy with the small progress being made where the Carnegie now has a bathroom and also more recently a small kitchenette.”