In 1853 Ward Lamson founded Iowa's first subscription library at 55 South Court Street, the first of several locations in Fairfield.
Many years later Senator Wilson asked Andrew Carnegie, his friend, to subsidize a permanent home for the Fairfield library. In December 1891 Carnegie agreed, and Wilson donated the land for the new library building.
This marked the first time that Carnegie had funded a library in which he had no personal ties or investments, and led to his funding of about 2800 more libraries throughout the world (1689 in the United States).
See the story of Carnegie's gift to Fairfield, a University of Iowa project.
In 1894 there were only about 400 public libraries in the entire country, with only 46 of them west of the Mississippi River.
Read Carnegie Libraries Across America: A Public Legacy
by Theodore Jones (available at the Fairfield Public Library).
Public libraries became the social centers, architectural landmarks, and the cornerstones of the educational system of a town. No wonder the Grand Opening celebration in Fairfield was such a spectacular event, with guests from as far away as Des Moines. View a history of the library, includes old photos.
In the 1920's the heavy Mansard roof was removed, as an underground stream was causing this heavy building to sink. The 1950's brought an extensive stabilizing project.
The front entrance was remodeled in 1966, but the "1853", the owl, and the "1892" remain - see the 1939 photo to the right or below.
The Carnegie Museum is still on the third floor, although the library moved to a new building in 1996.
Andrew Carnegie also made an unconditional gift for a library building at Parsons College (dedicated in 1907, now gone), but this was not a public library. T. D. Foster secured the gift while a fellow passenger on a ship crossing the Atlantic in 1905.
The Carnegie Historical Museum in Fairfield was recently recognized as an Iowa Century Museum. The museum received recognition for its "continuous service to its community and public as a collection, preservation and educational institution for over 100 years", and is one of Iowa's 10 oldest museums. Documentation shows a Fairfield museum was in existence as early as 1877.
Go to the Carnegie Museum website.
Click here for the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form and photos for this building, which you can download.
Vintage postcard of the former Fairfield Public Library, the Carnegie Library
Same view, 2010. In the 1920's the heavy Mansard roof was removed, as an underground stream was causing this heavy building to sink. 12-10-10
The Carnegie Museum and Indian Hills Community College are now housed here. 10-04-14
The "1853" is the date a library was founded in Fairfield. This building was built in 1892-93. 12-10-14
A 1939 photo of the front entrance
Northeast view. 05-02-10
Sculptures on the front lawn, installed in 1990, photo Werner Elmker. Newspaper article in next photo. 03-06-10
Plaque about the statue on the front lawn. Newspaper dated Nov 24, 1990.
The memorial is to Barhyte Chapel. See plaque next photo. 10-04-14
Barhyte Chapel was on the MUM campus. 10-30-10
A Carnegie Historical Museum fund-raising pancake breakfast was held, but it was damp and cloudy. 05-08-10
Mark Shafer, the Carnegie Historical Museum director, with a volunteer. 05-08-10
Original name of the library. 05-02-10