Old Carnegie Library at College Park, Winchester, KY

Over forty years ago, I moved to Winchester to start my teach­ing career. It was Labor Day week­end and the Daniel Boone Pioneer Festival was a new addi­tion to the activ­i­ties in the com­mu­ni­ty. What I remem­ber most about that hot September after­noon was sit­ting on the steps of the Carnegie Library at College Park, eat­ing a coun­try ham sand­wich, crisp pota­to chips on the side, and drink­ing an ice-cov­ered Ale‑8.

The build­ing was open and any­one could see the glo­ry that this build­ing pos­sessed. Hand-hewn Bedford stone. The sun that glint­ed down on a domed cop­per roof. For me, it was a bit magical.

As a lover of libraries and the gifts of knowl­edge that they offer, I felt trans­port­ed back to a time when peo­ple in Winchester want­ed a place for peo­ple to learn. To explore worlds that they might only trav­el to through the pages of an ency­clo­pe­dia or a book.

Harry Enoch wrote an arti­cle for The Winchester Sun in 2020. He out­lined the his­to­ry of the Carnegie Library. The library was a gift from Andrew Carnegie, best known for his devel­op­ment of the steel indus­try. He gave grants to cities all over the United States who wished to have libraries. Most of these grants were $15,000. According to Enoch’s arti­cle, in 1905, William Beckner and John L. Weber trav­eled to New York to secure funds from Carnegie. The library monies were raised, but it was not until 1913 when famous Winchester archi­tect Newton Powell received the con­tract to design and build this library. Many Winchester res­i­dents pro­vid­ed the books that would line the shelves.

Over 1,689 pub­lic libraries were built with these grants and over 750 are still func­tion­ing today. Some cities have put their libraries on the auc­tion block. They are old and cost­ly to main­tain. They are, to be blunt, con­sid­ered some­what of a “mon­ey pit.” Beyond all the neg­a­tives that could be expand­ed upon, this library is a valu­able piece of history.

One can only see the dream that Carnegie had. All peo­ple deserve to learn and to be edu­cat­ed. Carnegie referred to this as the “Gospel of Wealth.” He believed that wealthy peo­ple were moral­ly oblig­at­ed to give their mon­ey back to oth­ers in soci­ety. During his life, he dis­trib­uted over 350 mil­lion dol­lars to those in need as well as 7,500 organs for church­es across America.

I hate to see this build­ing con­tin­ue to fall into dis­re­pair. No one has to remind me that there are bud­get short­falls, while loom­ing over our heads is the threat of a reces­sion tight­en­ing the prover­bial belt loop of monies even tighter.

A library is a sym­bol of high­er learn­ing, the impor­tance of the writ­ten word, and the hopes and dreams that many find in books. I would only hope that this build­ing comes to the fore­front of our com­mu­ni­ty to save. As the cop­per roof that is tar­nished by age and weath­ered by storms, may we again see it glint in the sun and offer the promise of a future through the gift of the past.

  • Lisa Johns is a retired school teacher and high school librar­i­an. An advo­cate for his­toric down­town Winchester and its his­to­ry, Lisa is an avid read­er and sup­port­er of libraries and their con­tri­bu­tion to com­mu­ni­ties and society.