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.