CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY

CARNEGIE LIBRARY
also known as the Camden Free Public Library
616 BROADWAY
Northeast Corner of Broadway and Line Street

The Carnegie Library in 1914
CLICK ON PHOTO FOR ENLARGED VIEW

The Library Committee of City Council, on February 24th, adopted a resolution presented by Councilman Charles Ellis, formally accepting Andrew Carnegie’s offer of $100,000 for a public library in Camden. On April 28, 1903 the Free Library Trustees recommended the purchase of the Dialogue property, at Broadway and Line Street, 80 x 1600 feet, for the new Carnegie Library. The sum asked was $15,0900 and on November 4, 1903 the property was obtained for that sum. 

A competition for the design of the new library was held, with several local architects, including Arthur Truscott, submitting designs. Coming in first place in this contest was the firm of Hale & Morse. Hale and Morse represented the partnership of architects ordinarily not associated with Philadelphia: Herbert D. Hale and Henry G. Morse, both of whom were better known in Boston and New York. Nonetheless, for a period in the early twentieth century the firm established an office in the Drexel Building in Philadelphia, and their projects, reported by the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide included several residential operations.

Camden Free Library Building, built with money donated by Andrew Carnegie, Broadway and Line Street, opened to the public on June 27, 1905. 7,000 books were on the shelves. The cost of the building was about $86,000. Carnegie's donation eventually came to $120,000. It was Carnegie’s belief that universities and libraries were the most worthwhile areas to give donations, and he made major donations to over 2500 libraries across the country. The firm of J.E. and A.L Pennock built the two-storied, neoclassical library. It was finished with a pedimented entrance portico on the west façade. When there were no funds left to purchase furniture for the library, Andrew Carnegie donated a supplementary $20,000. The was housed at its original site for eighty-one years. In 1986, the library was set up in a larger building, leaving the original Camden Free Public Library empty. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in October of 1992, and still stands as a symbol of the City of Camden as well as a symbol of the generosity of Andrew Carnegie.

Sadly in the years between 1986 and 2004 the Carnegie Library stood as a symbol of much that was wrong with Camden- physical decay, political inertia, and an indifference to both the heritage of the past and the need to instill a love of books and learning in Camden's children. A few interested parties attempted to get government help in preserving the building, but met with little success.

The new wind that supposedly blew through Camden in 2003 brought wonderful news. On March 20, 2004, when the Camden Redevelopment Agency announced that funds had been set side for the preservation and restoration of the Carnegie Library. Sadly, the "new wind" was only so much hot air as these funds never materialized. Ten years later, the roofless shell of what had been Camden's center of learning still awaits restoration, or more likely, the wrecking ball.

The Carnegie Library, Broadway & Line St
The postmark on the card is April 28,1906
The Carnegie Library, Broadway & Line St
The Carnegie Library, Broadway & Line St The Carnegie Library, Broadway & Line St

Camden Courier-Post * July 9, 1905

William J. Browning

Camden Courier-Post * July 9, 1905

Camden Courier-Post * June 29, 1933

HOURS AT LIBRARIES CHANGE FOR SUMMER

New closing hours were announced yesterday by William H. Ketler, city librarian, for Camden's public library at Broadway and Line Street and its branches. The new hours' will be in effect during July and August.

The main library and its branches will, close each Saturday at 1 p. m., Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p. m. and Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9 p. m. They will be closed July 3 and 4. Ketler said the change  were ordered by the library trustees.

Camden Courier-Post * March 20, 2004

City Plans To Restore Carnegie Library
Camden Will Seek State Funds To Help Repair Historic Building

By JIM WALSH
Courier-Post Staff

The Carnegie Library, a long-vacant landmark so neglected that trees are growing inside it, could be restored as part of the city's turnaround effort. The city is preparing to spend $250,000 to stabilize the century-old building at Broadway and Line Street, said Arijit De, executive director of the Camden Redevelopment Agency. Improvements would include a temporary roof for the once-stately structure, which is considered one of New Jersey's most endangered historic buildings. Officials then will seek $4 million in restoration funds from the state and other sources, De said.

"Architecturally, it's a very significant building and an imposing building," said De, who called the neoclassical structure "a symbol of the city." He said the restored building is expected to have "a civic institutional use."

The two-story building, built with a $120,000 donation from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, was the city's main public library until 1986, when its operations were moved to the city's current downtown library on Federal Street. At that time, a consultant's report estimated the Carnegie Library needed some $1 million in repairs. Now, much of its roof has collapsed and walls are crumbling. Birds flit through empty windows to perch inside on branches that reach about 30 feet high.

People who live and work nearby welcome the city's plan. "That would be good for everybody," said city resident Tootsie Cole, 40, as she walked along Broadway. "It should be a place to learn." "It would give the kids a place to go," said Bong Lee, who runs a nearby grocery store.

The Carnegie Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. It was named an endangered building in 1995 by Preservation New Jersey, a nonprofit that works to save historic structures. A citizens' group, Friends of the Camden Library, also has pushed for the building's restoration.

"The way the library is now, it's kind of a marker for the decline of Camden," said group member Megan Searl of Moorestown, an urban studies major at Rutgers-Camden. "Something definitely needs to be done with it."

The former library is in the Lanning Square neighborhood, a depressed area due for sweeping changes under the city's recovery project. Stabilization work is to begin this year, said De, while the building's restoration could take two to three years. Still, some residents expressed skepticism.

"I'd have to see it," said Cole as she stood on a dilapidated block of Broadway. "Seeing is believing."

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