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Fort Wayne Public Library ca. 1937
By Randy Harter
Fort Wayne Reader
Fort Wayne’s first public library was formed as a reading room by Allen Hamilton’s wife Emerine in 1887 on West Wayne Street which then became a circulating library where you could actually check out books in 1889.
The precursor to today’s Allen County Public Library system had several homes downtown until — as a result of a $90,000 gift from industrialist Andrew Carnegie — the above pictured Indiana Bedford Limestone Grecian-style building was completed in January 1904. Three years earlier, 1901 Carnegie had sold his Pittsburgh based Carnegie Steel to J. P. Morgan for the then munificent sum of $480M. The resulting company became U. S. Steel Corp. and Carnegie devoted the rest of his life to philanthropic activities, including funding the construction of over 2,500 libraries around the world with more than 1,600 of them in the United States, 164 of which were built in Indiana (more than any other state). By the time of his death in 1919 he had cheerfully given away nearly 90% of his wealth.
In the ensuing 60 years, Fort Wayne’s main library long outgrew its home on West Wayne at Webster streets. The old library, meant to serve 40,000 patrons, was servicing 230,000 Allen County residents by the 1960s. The Carnegie library was razed in August of 1965 with the new modern main library being completed at that same location in 1968. During this period, a temporary library was set up in the old Purdue Center Building on Barr Street (previously the Catholic Community Center). It is interesting to note that Old Crown and Falstaff Brewing together donated 9,000 cardboard beer cases for use in packing and transporting the books from Barr Street to their new home on Webster. The new library has since been expanded several times with its latest impressive incarnation completed in 2007.
(Image courtesy of ACPL)
Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne historian and author of two books on local history.