Fayette County Cultural Trust - Explore Fayette County Pennsylvania
Andrew Carnegie
Connellsville Carnegie Library
On April 22, 1899, Andrew Carnegie gave $50,000.00 to the Borough (City) of Connellsville for construction of this building.The building is located on the former Zachariah Connell Cemetery (The bodies were exumed and moved into a new cemetery nearby) The library construction process was started in 1901 and was opened on April 30,1903. It was the location of many events during the 1906, 1956, and 2006 City Anniversaries. There are some changes made to the library A stack room was added in 1966 and modified in 1975. An Elevator was added in 2004. The reference room was restored in 2001.
Through the gift of a library, some of the wealth Andrew Carnegie had drawn from the Connellsville area returned to the town. In 1899 it asked Carnegie for a $50,000 grant to build a new library to house the growing collection it was already developing. He agreed, "provided a suitable site is furnished and the [town] council agrees to grant a fund annually to maintain and operate the library."
Meeting these conditions, however, proved difficult. The town council, the school board, and the General Library Committee agreed that the proper location for the proposed library building was the old cemetery that was in the hands of the school board. The school board was instructed to condemn the old "Connell Grave Yard" (given to the town by Zachariah Connell, its founder), after which the land would be donated for the library. The school board engaged an attorney and the process of acquiring the cemetery began. It took almost one year to condemn the ground, remove the bodies, and reinter them in Chestnut Hill Cemetery.
These actions caused a great deal of dissension in the community. Objections were raised to using the cemetery for the project, with many feeling that it was ghoulish to exhume the bodies. Others complained because relatives had to bear the expense of exhumation and reinterment.
Another group complained about the new library because of its expense. On April 16, 1900, the town council levied a one mill tax--that is, a 1/1,000 tax per dollar of property owned, or 1 cent for every 10 dollars--to pay for supplies and maintenance. On April 18 the opponents of the new tax wrote to Carnegie protesting "against burdening the town with a debt it can ill afford to incur under existing conditions." They attacked library advocates, saying these men had neither given any monies themselves nor solicited voluntary contributions. Instead, said the critics, supporters had obligated residents to pay higher taxes and invited litigation over use of cemetery grounds. Carnegie?s office rejected these complaints because the town council, which had the power to levy taxes, had approved the agreement. Carnegie believed the council was elected by the citizens of Connellsville and that its actions reflected the interests of the people.
Though some opposition to the tax continued for the next several years, library construction began in 1901. At the cornerstone laying, one of the speakers summed up the importance many in the community placed on the new building. "In laying the cornerstone of this building," he said, "you are not merely putting in place an inorganic block. You are laying the foundation of increased knowledge, happiness, enjoyment and improvement in your community. Within the walls to be erected, you and your sons and daughters and generations yet to come, can survey the whole horizon of human existence and achievement."
The "inorganic block" the speaker mentioned was a massive structure for a town of Connellsvilles size. Two stories tall with a full basement, the library sits on a small hill near Connellsville's business district. Nearly 100 feet wide and 75 feet deep, the building was made primarily from stone quarried in Ohio. The library's style is best described as neoclassical, since it contains elements borrowed from Greek and Roman architecture.