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Braddock Carnegie Library

A National Historic Landmark


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History of The Braddock Carnegie Library

The Braddock Carnegie Library in Braddock, Pennsylvania, is the first Carnegie Library in the United States. Designed by William Halsey Wood in eclectic medieval style, it was built in 1888 and dedicated by Andrew Carnegie on March 30, 1889. An addition in more Richardson Romanesque style by Longfellow, Alden & Harlow (successors to HH Richardson) was added in 1893. The library was named a National Historic Landmark in 2012, following its listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and is on the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation’s List of Historic Landmarks.

The Carnegie Foundation provided a grant of $357,782 for its construction. Like some of the other early Carnegie libraries, the building housed various recreational facilities for its users, including billiard tables on the first floor. (Carnegie was himself fond of billiards, which was quite fashionable at the time.) A bathhouse in the basement, originally accessed by a tunnel under the front entrance, provided Carnegie’s mill workers with a place to shower (at a time when indoor plumbing was not the norm) before using the facilities. Now re-purposed as a ceramics studio, the tiled walls and floor remain, suggesting its original purpose. The 1893 addition approximately doubled the size of the building, and brought many further amenities not usually associated with a library, including a 964-seat Music Hall, a gymnasium, a swimming pool (beneath the Music Hall), and a two-lane duckpin alley. At least in the early years, the athletic/recreational facilities were available to members of the “Carnegie Club” who paid a modest quarterly fee. Employees of any Carnegie-owned company received a 50% discount, which in 1903 amounted to $1/quarter.

The Library remained in continuous use from 1889-1974, when neglect of the structure and lack of funds for repair, particularly of the roof, forced its closure. It was slated for demolition in the late 1970s when a group of residents for whom the Library had represented a very positive influence in their youth, organized to save the structure. Calling themselves the Braddock’s Field Historical Society and led by David Solomon, the last librarian, they purchased the building for $1 and took steps to secure the building and attend to the roof. (The Society’s name refers to Braddock’s Field, the colonial-era name of the area, relating to the Battle of the Monongahela fought on July 9, 1755, a few blocks away)

Initially re-opening a single room as a children’s library in 1983, with kerosene heat, the Society slowly but steadily re-occupied the building. The wood-paneled gym was restored in the early 1990’s, and the roof was restored to its original terracotta appearance in 1998, along with the interior walls of the Music Hall, which had suffered substantial water damage from the leaking roof.

Currently, library services for adults have largely moved to the first floor, while a new Children’s Library opened in March 2012 on the second floor.

Work on the Music Hall continues, with restoration of the floor and the original 1893 seats the current focus.

The building has been used in at least three cinematic productions – as a Brooklyn police station in the TV movie, The Bride in Black (1990), with Susan Lucci and David Soul; as an orphanage in the TV movie, The Christmas Tree (1996), with Julie Harris, which was Sally Field’s directorial debut; and as (separately) a museum and gymnasium in Shelter (2010), with Julianne Moore and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.