“Reading is FUN-damental!” Libraries of the National Register of Historic Places

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.

Schoodic Scenic Byway – Gouldsboro Library (National Archives Identifier 7722024).

It’s January – it’s cold – we can’t go out anywhere. Throw another log on the fire, snuggle up with a book, and enjoy the records from the National Register of Historic Places. This collection features more than 27,000 records when one searches for “libraries”, including this comfy little example seen above – the West Gouldsboro Village Library of Maine (National Archives Identifier 88684921). The library is “a one-story three-bay Tudor Revival style building of handsome design. It features a tall rubble stone foundation that rises to the window sills, stuccoed exterior walls and chimney surfaces, and a steeply pitched gable roof framing half-timbered peaks.” The building was “erected in 1907 from plans drawn by Bar Harbor architect Fred L. Savage . . .” and “is one of only a handful of library buildings built in Maine in this style . . . The West Gouldsboro Village Library remained in operation until 1956, at which time it had 1,700 volumes in its collection. After closing, the building was maintained by the West Gouldsboro Improvement Association. However, on August 28, 1990, eighty-three years after it originally opened, the library was re-established.”

Of course, not all permanent libraries are permanent structures – for many years, my mother operated a “bookmobile” for our local public library – she would drive around to people’s homes and bring them something to read, just as these women are doing in Prince George’s County, Maryland – or these rugged librarians delivering books to rural areas of Kentucky, as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Traveling Libraries, Prince George’s County Memorial Library (National Archives Identifier 23932512).
Photograph of Pack Horse Librarians (National Archives Identifier 148728414).

There are more than 3700 records pertaining to the WPA in the NRHP records, including the Utah MPS Kanab Library (National Archives Identifier 71999672), which “is one of 226 buildings constructed in Utah during the 1930s and early 1940s under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and other New Deal programs (excluding the Civilian Conservation Corps) . . . Of the 226, 4 were public libraries . . . In 1938 the city council’s application for construction of a library building as a WPA project was approved. An $8,000 bond election was held in the fall of 1938 with the project gaining voter approval. The city of Salina in Sevier County had just completed a library building and agreed to let Kanab use the same plans at no cost . . . The Kanab Library was built between 1939 and 1940 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project at an approximate cost of $18,000. It was constructed on land near the high school so that “the institution can render great assistance in supplying references and reading materials for the elementary and high school students, as well as for the general public.” The school board purchased the land for that purpose on the condition that two rooms in the basement of the east end of the completed library building be used for school offices.”

Also found on the National Register is the New Mexico SP Harwood Foundation (National Archives Identifier 77847665), on the grounds you can find the Foundation Library, which “under the auspices of the University the present library and auditorium were built between 1937 and 1940 with W.P.A. funds and a Carnegie Foundation grant. The library, expanded by a large donation from art patroness Mabel Dodge Luhan, now contains over 25,000 volumes and serves more than 4,000 borrowers as the only public library in Taos County.”

Taos County, New Mexico. Library of the Harwood Foundation (National Archives Identifier 521961).

Another program of the United States recovery from the Great Depression was the formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), there are more than 1700 records specific to the CCC in the NRHP Records. Many of the “camps” that were constructed featured libraries, and the Idaho SP Brown’s Creek CCC Camp Barracks (National Archives Identifier 84249643) was converted to a public library after it ceased being a CCC camp. “At its present location at Weippe, where it was moved to serve as a public library, the building has seen the replacement of asbestos shingle siding where some shingles were missing and the addition of an iron railing at one of the entrances and vents at the base of the building to allow air to circulate within its new foundation . . . Following termination of CCC activities in 1942, an effort was made to utilize camp structures for other public purposes where practical. That required more moving, renovation, and adaption of architectural resources.” The use of the barracks building, “now used by Weippe’s public library, illustrates this entire conservation program admirably.”

Photograph of Camp Library (National Archives Identifier 37296558).

Also well represented in the NRHP are “Carnegie Libraries,” built from funds provided by the American philanthropist and steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie. More than 3,500 libraries were built, the majority of them in the United States – and many in the areas surrounding Carnegie’s home town, Pittsburgh.

Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway – Carnegie Library in Spring Valley (National Archives Identifier 77119154).

One library, the Spring Valley Public Library in Minnesota (National Archives Identifier 93200378), “occupies a prominent corner site on South Broadway at Main, just south of the community’s commercial district and close to Spring Valley Creek in the area known as Spring Park.” It is historically “significant as a virtually unaltered example of Beaux Arts Classicism in a small, rural community, and as a representative of the educational aspect of Spring Valley’s prosperity and progressive aspirations at the turn of the century. The library was completed in 1904 with funding from an $8,000 Carnegie grant.” The Spring Valley Public Library is one of two Carnegie Libraries found in the Minnesota MPS Fillmore County MRA [Multiple Resource Area] (National Archives Identifier 93200348), the other being the Chatfield Public Library (National Archives ID 93200344), which was “designed in the more progressive Prairie School style.”

Photograph of Researchers in the Library (National Archives Identifier 35810622).

You can also visit any number of federal libraries, including those of the Presidential Library system. The first of these libraries to be established was the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York, which is located adjacent to FDR’s home, Springwood (National Archives Identifier 75317366). 

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (National Archives Identifier 102252980).

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library is administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and “is an integral and essential part of the area and a major element in the grand scheme. The basic design and choice of materials were Roosevelt’s and the building was erected by a private corporation whose members he knew. The authorizing resolution gave him almost complete control in his capacity as donor. He laid the cornerstone and welcomed visitors when the museum was opened. His personal office, reminiscent of the White House years, had a strategic location. His final imprint was in the basic design of the two wings added in 1971.” Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted in the application file regarding the “intangible significance of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt NHS: ‘I think Franklin realized that the historic library, the house, and the peaceful resting place behind the high hedge with flowers blooming around it would perhaps mean something to the people of the United States. They would understand the rest and peace and strength which he had gained here and perhaps learn to come, and go away with some sense of healing and courage themselves.’”

First Lady Laura Bush at No Child Left Behind Summer Reading Achievers Event at Portsmouth Public Library. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, (National Archives Identifier 122668161).

So be sure to raise your hand if you love libraries and reading. Put down that phone and grab a book – as Laura Bush did at the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Public Library in July 2004, which is also on the National Register – New Hampshire SP Portsmouth Public Library (National Archives Identifier 77845540). The library was originally constructed as the Portsmouth Academy in 1809, “at that time, it was one of the finest academic buildings in northern New England, and was in some ways superior architecturally to the 1794 Phillips Exeter Academy building that was its prototype.” Remember – Reading is FUN-damental!

Click on any of the hyperlinked National Archives ID numbers above to open the fully digitized records in the National Archives Catalog. The files include additional documents, photographs, drawings, and maps.