BACKSTORY-When Carnegie Helped Casper Build Its First Library - Casper, WY Oil City News
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BACKSTORY-When Carnegie Helped Casper Build Its First Library

Carnegie Library, shortly after completion in 1910. Casper, Wyoming. (Casper College Western History Center)

Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland and immigrated to the Unites States as a child with his parents.

Thanks to his success in businesses ranging from oil to railroads to steel, Carnegie became one of the wealthiest Americans of his era.

After selling off his businesses and retiring in the early part of the 20th-century, Carnegie spent the remainder of his life giving away much of his enormous wealth.

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Casper’s connection to one of America’s most generous philanthropists can be found right on the corner of Durbin and Second Street downtown.

Andrew Carnegie’s library foundation helped build over 1,700 public libraries around the country. In 1905, forward-thinking mayor Wilson Kimball wrote to the foundation hoping to secure a grant to start a library in his dusty, rapidly growing town of Casper.

“We have a town here of at the present time about 1,500 population and there is probably not a more cosmopolitan town, of its size, in the United States,” wrote Kimball. He continued, “A Carnegie Library here would benefit a class that are seldom benefited by such institutions, and would afford a quiet, wholesome and instructive resort of character that are too scarce in these western range towns.”

Carnegie’s foundation agreed to a $10,000 grant and land for the library was donated to the cause. However, the small yet elegant design for the building ended up coming in over budget. With some frustration and a few concessions from Casper, the foundation agreed to another $3,000 to help finish the project.

By 1910 on what was then the edge of town, Casper first library was completed. The building with its classical design cues, high quality masonry and three domes stood out among the prairie, muddy streets and stick buildings that then made up Casper. It wasn’t long before new surrounding buildings joined the small library, and its contents became too numerous to house.

By the early 1920s a new design was seamlessly integrated into the original building, adding much needed space for events and collections.

Post World War brought more rapid growth and prosperity to Casper, and a modern addition was opened in 1952.

By the late 1960s, the original sections of the Carnegie building had become obsolete and fallen into disrepair. A good portion of the old building had been relegated to storage. In 1970, the original building was demolished and the final addition we have today was built.

In all, Wyoming built a total of 16 Carnegie libraries. Ten survive.

Details for this article is culled from “A Window to the World: The First 100 Years of the Natrona County Public Library” by Walter R. Jones.

“Second Ave. looking East, Casper, Wyo.” Likely circa 1910, Carnegie Library at right. (Casper College Western History Center)
Sheep. Looking northwest from about Collins and Beech. Natrona County Public Library to the right. Far left appears to be the Odd Fellows Buildling.
“Shriners in Casper, March 10, 1916.” Carnegie Public Library visible in background.
“Carnegie Public Library, Casper, Wyo.” (No date).
Natrona County Public Library after the 1925 addition. Original Carnegie Library dome is visible on top. Ruth Scott Hocker Collection, Casper College Western History Center.
Library is seen at left in Casper’s growing downtown in this circa 1925 photo. (Casper College Western History Center)
The remains of the original Carnegie Library, 1925 addition and adjacent Casper American Legion building are demolished in 1970 to make way for the library’s modernization. (Casper College Western History Center)
Carnegie Library is demolished. This view is facing north, with the First United Methodist Church visible in background. (Casper College Western History Center)
Formally the Second Street main entrance to the 1952 library addition, it is now walled off. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
The curved entrance to the Natrona County Public Library completed in 1971, with part of the 1952 section to the left. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)