Saturday, July 16, 2016

Old postcard: The Carnegie library of Tomah, Wisconsin

This undated1 and unused E.C. Kropp postcard gives us a dandy view of the public library in Tomah, Wisconsin. It is one of 63 public Carnegie libraries built in Wisconsin, which received 60 Carnegie grants totaling more than $1 million between 1901 and 1915. (Wisconsin was 11th in the nation in total amount of Carnegie grant money received.)

Construction on Tomah Public Library, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places, began in 1915. It was designed in the Prairie School architectural style by the Madison, Wisconsin, architectural firm of Louis W. Claude (1868-1951) and Edward F. Starck (1868-1947). The architectural style, according to Wikipedia, is typically marked by horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs with broad overhanging eaves and windows grouped in horizontal bands. The Willits House, in Highland Park, Illinois, as designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is an important early Prairie School design.

According to the Tomah Public Library's history page, the idea of a town library first came about in 1871, when residents began donating books and magazines. But as the collection grew larger over the years, it needed a sufficient home. The primary funds for the library's construction consisted of $7,000 bequeathed by geologist Ernest Buckley and a $10,000 Carnegie grant.

The building's original interior included "a fireplace, built-in bookshelves and magazine racks along the walls, built-in benches, and a desk on the rear facing the main entrance (from where the librarian could easily keep watch over the entire room)."

In 1980, a major expansion nearly doubled the library's size. The addition was added to the back of the building, so that the original design of the front would retain its prominence. Here's a 2009 photo of the library from nearly the same angle as the postcard.

To commemorate the library's 100-year anniversary, the Friends of the Tomah Public Library are planning to erect "The Wellspring of Knowledge Fountain" on the grounds. According to fund-raising materials, "the fountain will consist of an original cast bronze sculpture with a water wall. A granite base will hold a bronze double-sided bookshelf containing 80 books on each side. A bronze life sized figure of a child will be seated on each side of the bookshelf."

We can keep our fingers crossed than that library and planned fountain will remain there for at least another 100 years.

1. The postcard might be from between 1915 and 1930, which is known as the White Border Era. This was primarily an effort to reduce production costs by saving ink.

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