“Aim for the Highest!” These words were often spoken by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who, during the early 1900’s, was responsible for helping hundreds of communities establish public libraries. By providing funds for the construction of library buildings, Carnegie’s generosity combined with the determination of Eureka Springs’ residents, made the Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library a reality.
In 1910, a Board of Trustees was organized and plans for a building and proposed site were sent to Mr. Carnegie. He agreed to donate $12,500. The limestone structure was designed by St. Louis architect George W. Hellmuth, but the original site deemed unsuitable. A new site was donated by R.C. Kerens, a Eureka Springs investor, but it consisted of a solid stone cliff.
Due to delays, bad weather and the additional costs of excavation, B. J. Rosewater, the President of the Library Board of Trustees, petitioned – and petitioned repeatedly – Mr. Carnegie for additional funds to complete the project. Finally, Mr. Carnegie agreed to increase his donation by $3,000, and the excavation and the building were completed in 1912.
Meanwhile the city administration declined to provide the $1,250 per year needed to operate the Library, galvanizing Mr. Rosewater and others to appeal to the public for Library support. Memberships of $1.00 per year were sold, books and furniture were donated, and a librarian was hired. The Library survived those first difficult years, although it was forced to close during the winter of 1916, due to insufficient funds for fuel and staff. Because many residents wanted the Library and were willing to donate time and funds to insure its prosperity, its doors reopened and by 1921, the Library was open six days a week.
The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The Classical Revival-style building was constructed of locally quarried stone.
The Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library is one of four Arkansas library buildings built with funding by Andrew Carnegie. The Fort Smith Carnegie Public Library is now is home to a television station. The Little Rock Carnegie Public Library was demolished. The Conway County Public Library, built with Carnegie funds in 1916, still serves the residents of Morrilton and the surrounding area.
Since 1956, the Library, as a member of the Carroll County Library System, has received county tax funds. In 2000, it joined the Carroll and Madison Library System along with the two other libraries in Carroll County and three in neighboring Madison County.
Throughout three-fourths of the town’s history, the Library has served the community well. In 1916, someone wrote in the local newspaper, “We need … everything that will help make a better Eureka Springs, and does that not include our Public Library?”
Our answer was and continues to be, a resounding, “Yes!”
Unfortunately, much of the correspondence between the B.J. Rosewater, Andrew Carnegie and his Secretary, James Bertram, has been lost.