Spokane History Timeline

The Spokane Public Library and the Carnegie Building,

Spokane was truly a young town when its people began to feel the need for a library in 1879. It seemed early to be thinking about a library. Only eight years before in 1871 James Downing and Seth Scranton built a sawmill at Spokane Falls. Two years later, James Glover fell in love with these falls and bought 158 acres that is now Spokane’s business area. It seemed there was a need for a library because even before there was an actual building, a Spokane resident, Mrs. Cannon provided books for the Indians and townspeople out of her own book collection. There were many attempts at starting a Spokane library before the actual Carnegie library was built in 1904.

The population of Spokane began to grow when the Northern Pacific Railroad came in 1881. After that even more people came to Spokane when gold was found in Coeur d’ Alene in the fall of 1883. The people that began pouring into Spokane included those who came to get rich and also educated men who went into real estate and banking. Many of these people wanted a library so the first drive to make a library occurred in the fall of 1883. Reverend Thomas G. Watson, Mrs. Kaufman, and Mrs. Fellowes attempted to start a public library and reading room. A committee of prominent citizens was put together; they collected funds by selling $10.00 shares and on July 1, 1883 the first library was opened. It was located in a toy and novelty shop on Riverside Avenue and it had over 556 books. This library closed in 1884 despite Spokane’s population going from 2,000 in 1886 to 20,000 in 1889.

Building Carnegie Library

Three years later, a man named Robert Harvey tried to persuade Spokane Falls residents that they needed a public library to “…attract to this city the attention of the civilized world…’’ He felt that a library would give Spokane “ the best physically and mentally developed citizens in world…” Harvey was unable to get this second library started because on August 4,1889, 32 blocks of the business district burned to the ground. The next attempt for a library would be the beginning of the library that we know today.

The library movement was revived within a year after the rubble from the fire was cleared away. There were three groups trying to put a library together. The first was Mr. Harvey and Dr. Mary Latham, the second was the Unions, and the third was the Spokane Sorosis Club, which was a professional women’s community service organization. The Sorosis club was formed by women, who wanted to help the community but were usually shut out of membership in many all-male organizations. They were the first to gather together a collection of books and designate a librarian. The Sorosis club books were eventually given to the Union Library, which became the Spokane City Library. These groups were called “ The Butcher, The Baker, And the Candlestick maker”.

The working citizens of Spokane supported the Union library during 1893 and 1894. These citizens weren’t making enough money and had to let the city take over the library. The city also had no money so they could only offer a room in city hall. Over the next few years the city couldn’t afford to buy many new books but it did adopted the Dewey Decimal system in 1896 and a card catalog was established in 1899. As the financial condition of the city improved in 1898 the city spent $1400 for books, and finally could pay to heat the building for evening hours. Compared to other libraries in the region the Spokane library was still embarrassing because the city gave very little of the tax money to the library and still had people pay a subscription fee. The library commission dropped the fee of twenty-five cents per quarter, and changed the name to The Spokane Free Library in January 1, 1901. The first month after the fee was dropped the number of registered borrowers doubled.

The Spokane City Hall was accepted as a suitable location for the library in 1901 but they needed to change the location so that women and children wouldn’t have to go by the saloons and gambling halls on their way to the library. The idea for a new location and new building took hold immediately. On March 14, 1901 a committee of citizens sent a telegram to Andrew Carnegie asking for money to help build a new library building. He was a famous philanthropist of libraries. At first he said no without giving any reason.

Carnegie Library Spokane

Meanwhile the need for more space and a better location for the library became more and more needed. The library was moved into a bigger room in City Hall and the number of books tripled by 1903. The new librarian tried to clean up the neighborhood but she didn’t have much success. The city was about to build a new library when on April 2, 1903 a letter unexpectedly arrived from New York announcing that Mr. Carnegie would donate $75,000 for a library building. The previous letter two years earlier had made it sound like Spokane already had a building.

Most people wanted the new library to be built in the center of town but it was actually built half a mile beyond the edge of the business district. The land for the library was donated by a wealthy mine owner named Amasa B. Campbell. The land was called the Newbery property and was located in the Browne’s Addition. The Spokane Society of Architects had a competition to decide how the new library would look. The drawings were turned in to Professor William Ware of Columbia University to be judged. The library was to be constructed for $59,185 not leaving enough to finish the inside. The council asked for more money from Mr. Carnegie and he gave the city $10,000 more.
Hundreds of people gathered for the opening of the new Spokane Public Library in November 1905. The library started with just a few books shared out of a pioneer’s home and grew to an $85,000 building. There were many hard working people involved over 26 years to make the Spokane library a success. The Carnegie Building still stands at 10 S. Cedar Street, which is located just five blocks from our current library built in 1995.

Photos used with permission from Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/ Eastern Washington State Historical Society.
L04-9.217 = Building Carnegie Library
L95-111.441 = Carnegie Library

copyright (c) 2007, Discovery School.
All rights reserved.
Report created May, 2007.
Edited: August 21, 2007;10/4/2009 2:40
Last Modified on August 1, 2011