Carnegie Libraries

The rapid expansion of American cities between 1890 and 1920 created a social environment which concerned many civic leaders. Efforts to counter the perceived vices of urban living included the construction of lending libraries to cultivate the social mores of immigrants and rural migrants. Women’s societies became particularly adept at taking up the cause of urban gentility. The library as an example of culture and civic values became even more entrenched once the philanthropic donations of Andrew Carnegie provided small towns with capital to construct libraries. These libraries—built after consultation with librarians—prioritized function over form and were typically built in a Neoclassical style which evoked the classical heritage of American democracy.
Montana’s Carnegie Libraries follow the pattern of social values which precipitated construction. Considering the number of libraries per capita and the early solicitation of funds, Montanans were quick to adopt the library as an alternative to the saloons and red light districts which still thrived in Montana towns. Many of the libraries follow guidelines recommended by Carnegie and his secretary James Bertram, although local materials and architectural preferences provide regional distinction. These buildings remain a critical part of the urban fabric and local towns continue to support their use, all but two of the original seventeen Carnegie Libraries are extant and nine are on the National Register. The Carnegie Libraries of Montana continue to provide evidence of the state’s cultural and civic values.

Eight Carnegie Libraries in Montana do not have historical markers. These libraries are in Chinook, Fort Benton, Havre, Livingston, Malta, Miles City, and Missoula. The Carnegie Libraries in Glasgow and Great Falls were demolished in 1965.

Carnegie Library, Red Lodge 

The Red Lodge City Library opened in the Savoy Hotel in 1914 thanks to the efforts of the Women’s Club of Red Lodge. The hotel, however, was just a temporary home. The Club soon took up the campaign to secure a permanent library facility. The city…

Carnegie Library, Lewistown

Lewistown's first library opened in 1897 with 269 books in a corner of Mary Hanson's millinery shop. When Mrs. Hanson left town two years later, the collection moved to the office of Elizabeth Peeples, county superintendent of schools. In…

Dillon City Library

As early as 1888, the Reverend and Mrs. Sidney Hooker of the Episcopal Church launched a book club, laying the foundation for this impressive public library. A town meeting in 1890 established a library association, and soon contributions of books,…

Big Horn County Library

Hardin women began raising money for a library in 1909. Numerous fundraisers followed, and in 1912 a hundred-book library opened in the home of Walter and Ella Fearis. After the city passed a mill levy in 1914, Walter Fearis wrote library benefactor…

Carnegie Library, Kalispell

Citizens organized the Kalispell Public Library in 1897 and reorganized it as the Free Library a few years later. Holdings included 772 circulating volumes and 269 reference works. In 1900, Kalispell banker J. Harrington Edwards met with the private…

Bozeman Carnegie Library

Steel baron Andrew Carnegie viewed public libraries as a key agent of self improvement and donated roughly $41 million for the construction of 1,679 public libraries between 1886 and 1917. The Bozeman Classical Revival landmark, one of seventeen…

Carnegie Library, Hamilton

Hamilton’s Ministerial Association opened the first free library in Ravalli County in April 1903 in a room donated by the Ravalli County Bank. Three months later, Hamilton voters levied a one mill tax to support the library, and the enterprise…

Carnegie Public Library, Big Timber

An alternative to saloons and pool halls, the Big Timber Library stayed open evenings in 1914, with the hope of “not only … educating [people] … in the right way, but keeping them from falling by the wayside, as so many do in these western…