The Carnegie library building is one of Hanford’s historic and architectural gems. To fully appreciate this building, one should know about the people and events that led to its creation and preservation.
Andrew Carnegie’s Impact
The first individual is Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant who became one of our nation’s wealthiest industrialists and philanthropists. When Carnegie was 12, his family immigrated from a modest home in Scotland to Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Smart and industrious, he easily found a succession of jobs, including one as a telegraph operator. His employer, Col. James Anderson, gave young Carnegie access to his private 400 volume library. This spurred in him a lifelong love for learning and books. Appreciative of the opportunity to read and educate himself, he resolved “if ever wealth came to me, that other poor boys might receive opportunities similar to those for which we are indebted to the noble man.”
Bolstered by an education, skills and drive, Carnegie founded the Carnegie Steel Company and amassed a personal fortune of nearly $400 million. Adjusted for inflation, this equals $310 billion today, making Carnegie the fourth wealthiest person in history.
Carnegie used his wealth for philanthropic purposes. He distributed close to 95 percent of his fortune to charitable causes before his death. Between 1883 and 1929, he helped to finance the construction of approximately 2,500 libraries worldwide, including more than 1,600 libraries in 1,400 communities across the United States. Today, 1,554 of these buildings are still standing. A remarkable 911 buildings continue to serve as community libraries to this day.
Women’s Organizations Promote Free Reading Rooms
After the Civil War, women’s organizations across the nation began creating free reading rooms. One was established in Hanford in 1890. The reading room proved immensely popular and, in a few short years, the community needed a larger library. In 1902, the Ladies of the Grand Army Republic Reading Room Association committed to building a new library in town and sought a gift of $15,000 from the Carnegie Foundation. Carnegie’s standard contribution to a town the size of Hanford was $10,000. Carnegie agreed to gift $12,500 if the City contributed the land, furnishings and books for the library.
On July 27, 1903, Hanford’s Board of Trustees (now known as the City Council) approved Ordinance No. 118, accepting Carnegie’s gift and conditions. The City also committed to funding the operation of the library in the amount of $1,250 per year. The building was constructed and opened as a library in 1905.
George McDougall, a Central Valley architect, designed the Carnegie library. He also designed the county jail now known as The Bastille, the Episcopal Church and numerous other private and public buildings in the Hanford area.
McDougall chose a Richardson Romanesque design for the Carnegie library, which is one reason the building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This architectural style was very popular starting in the mid-19th century but was not common in the western United States. It is characterized by substantial unadorned structural components, paired arched windows and other round-headed arches. The style also uses rusticated stones in the exterior walls. A common feature of Carnegie libraries found in the Hanford building is a ground-level stairway leading up to a prominent arched doorway—a symbol of the elevation of the individual through education.
The County’s application to the National Register highlights the distinctive aspects of the building’s design. The application quotes from A Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles and Southern California:
“Without question, the most sophisticatedly-designed Carnegie library in the state. It is enhanced by a cut finished stone (sic) version of the Romanesque with a small square tower snuggled in between the body of the building and the north projecting wing. The ornament is sparce but fine.”
Impact of Community Leaders
The building housed the public library until the County opened a new library in 1968. In 1972, the City planned to demolish the now vacant building. However, a large cadre of community leaders led by Dan and Wilma Humason, Evelyn Gustafson, Louise Shelton, Marsha McCoy and Robert Marcellus, to name a few, convinced the City that the building should be used as a local history museum. Thousands of hours of volunteer work and thousands of dollars in donations resulted in the opening of the museum in 1975.
A HISTORY OF US PUBLIC LIBRARIES, Digital Public Library of America, Carnegie Libraries
ANDREW CARNEGIE, Biography.com Original publication April 2, 2014. Updated June 12, 2020
CITY OF HANFORD ORDINANCE No. 118, June 27, 1903
COMMUNITY SAVES CARNEGIE, The Hanford Sentinel, February 7, 1978
NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES APPLICATION, December 15, 1980
The National Archives Catalog: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/123858879
PHILANTHROPY OF ANDREW CARNEGIE, Columbia University Libraries Rare Book and Manuscript Library
THE HANFORD CARNEGIE MUSEUM, Hidden History of Kings County 2019, a publication of The Hanford Sentinel
THE JEWEL OF THE VALLEY: THE CARNEGIE MUSEUM OF HOMESTEAD, Martin Goldberg, Pennsylvania History: A Journal of MId-Atlantic Studies, Vol. 70, Nov. 2, 2003
THE TEN RICHEST PEOPLE OF ALL TIME, Money, Jacob Davidson, July 30, 2015
THE WORLD’S GREATEST PHILANTHROPIST DIED TODAY, 100 YEARS AGO; WHAT SHOULD MODERN MILLIONAIRES LEARN FROM ANDREW CARNEGIE. Ollie Williams, Forbes, August 11, 2019
WILMA HUMASON, interview December 2020