The three are among four Rock County structures that were funded by Carnegie grants, including one in Janesville, one in Edgerton and two in Beloit.
A Scottish immigrant who came to America as a 13-year-old in 1848, Carnegie grew up in a family who placed importance on books and learning. He started working at a factory job paying $1.20 a week and eventually became a steel magnate worth millions and a noted philanthropist.
An avid reader himself, Carnegie donated more than $56 million for the construction of public libraries throughout the world, including 1,679 libraries in the United States.
“In the last part of the 19th century and in the first two decades of the 20th century an explosion of library construction took place in communities throughout Wisconsin. This construction boom was fostered to a large extent by Andrew Carnegie and other philanthropists,” said Larry Nix, a retired librarian and self-described library history buff who lives in Middleton.
Only six other states received more Carnegie grants than Wisconsin. In this state, 60 communities received grants that funded 63 libraries (three communities received second Carnegie grants for branch libraries). Additionally, two academic institutions, one of which was Beloit College, received Carnegie library grants. The bulk of those libraries were constructed between 1901 and 1915 -- four years before Carnegie died.
Today only 23 of those original buildings are still being used as libraries, according to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center, where Nix is a contributor to the organization’s website. Twenty-eight have become the home to some other business or organization, and 14 have been razed.
“The story of the Carnegie libraries in Rock County is much the same as across the state and nation,” Nix said. “Some have been torn down, as was the Beloit Public Library, many have been repurposed, as have the Janesville and Beloit College libraries, and some are continuing to be used as libraries, usually after remodeling and expansion, as is the case with the Edgerton Public Library.
“The new library buildings were a source of pride and as such were represented on a variety of souvenir items, including china, spoons and picture postcards,” Nix said. “These souvenir items included representation of a variety of the most prominent buildings in a community (such as) courthouses, schools, etc.”
Nix’s personal collection of vintage items marking openings and anniversaries of Wisconsin libraries includes postcards of all four Rock County Carnegie libraries, china trinkets for the Beloit and Janesville libraries, a metal souvenir tray for Janesville and an Edgerton library souvenir spoon.
The Edgerton Public Library, a neoclassical, revival-style brick and stone building located at 101 Albion St., has long been a community magnet, drawing people for everything from fall suppers to staged plays, according to a history written by its former director, Kathy Whitt.
Whitt said the library housed 2,400 books, two fireplaces and “a spacious reading room with oak furnishings” when it opened in 1907, with a $10,000 grant from Carnegie, who also stipulated that a minimum of $1,000 be allocated annually for the library’s maintenance.
A century later, library use had more than doubled, and patrons were demanding more digital services than books. In 2006, the library was renovated, and a new building was added on.
Current library director Sherry Machones said architects closely matched the addition’s exterior to the original, and the two are joined by a skywalk.
Inside, the new space features high-speed Internet, two Wi-Fi systems and radio frequency technology to speed up checkouts. The original building’s interior still retains its fireplaces and woodwork amidst stacks of periodicals and shelves of books.
“It’s the quiet side of the building,” Machones said. “There’s lots of seating for people to work quietly.”
Keeping the Carnegie building was important to the community, she said.
“People in Edgerton really honor their heritage and it still matters to them,” Machones said.
Janesville residents also wanted to keep their Carnegie library building at 69 S. Water St. Built in 1902, the three-story neoclassical building is striking, with carvings on its exterior.
But as patrons increased during the 20th century, space was at a premium. By 1967, the Janesville library relocated, leaving the building free. For years, the space was home to the city’s recreation department and the Janesville Little Theater was housed on the third floor. In 1986, it became the Janesville Senior Center.
Janet McLean, the center’s director, said a major renovation 30 years ago included a commercial-grade kitchen and additions on two floors, giving the center a total of 9,400 square feet on two floors. Because of safety code issues, the third floor is not used.
She said the center had 811 members in 2014, making it a little crowded during popular programs, but she appreciates the floor space for serving meals and hosting large events.
“The old goes well with the new. Many people don’t realize the additions because the architects kept with the history of the building,” said McLean, a Janesville native who remembers going to the library when she was younger.
The city of Beloit received its Carnegie grant in 1901, and opened its new library on Grand Avenue in 1903.
By 1935, 6,411 adults and 3,650 children were library cardholders, according to records at the Beloit Historical Society. By 1972, city officials were concerned about the age and space of the library building, and the library was relocated to an old downtown post office.
In a fit of progress, the Carnegie building was razed.
A library building wasn’t part of the plan when Beloit College opened in 1848. Its 800-some volumes of library books were originally shelved in one room, but by the turn of the last century, college administrators knew they needed a building to house their growing collection.
At the request of Horace White, a noted journalist and alumnus of the college, Carnegie gave the school $50,000 for a new library. The Renaissance-style building, made of Bedford stone, was completed in 1904 and proclaimed thoroughly modern.
By 1931, however, the college had two satellite libraries on campus to ease overcrowding. A new library was built in 1962 to hold a collection that had grown to 178,000 volumes.
The Carnegie library building then became the Holman D. Pettibone World Affairs Center, named for the former chairman of the college board of trustees. Now it’s used as a library and a space for classes, world language study and offices. The building was renovated in 2013, when lighting, a new porch, doors and a bike rack were installed.
Nix noted there were only 117 academic Carnegie libraries nationwide. Of the two in Wisconsin, the library on the Beloit campus is the only one still standing. The other, at Lawrence University in Appleton, was razed, he said.