How could anyone not love a Carnegie library?! The Fairhaven library is an interesting reflection of the community it sits in, and a beautiful example of mission style architecture. The original building, completed in 1905, was mostly brick, with the exception of the basement. With Bellingham’s moist climate, and the porous brick, it was a recipe for disaster for all of the books the library worked so had to collect. The solution was to cover most of the bricks in concrete in 1910, giving the building it’s current look.
The most interesting part of this library to me was the ‘working men’s reading room.’ Andrew Carnegie donated the funds for the building, but local philanthropist, Charles X. Larrabee, donated the land. He had one caveat – that the library must have a room where men could read “in their working clothes.” He was the son of an alcoholic, so he wanted to promote camaraderie among men OUTSIDE of saloons. How wonderful! This is how FairhavenHistory.com describes the original layout of the building:
Entering the library’s original first floor layout, the circulation desk was at the center with the “ladies’ reception room” to the left and the main reading room on the right. Most of the books were safely behind the desk in the “book room.” On the top floor, “with an artistic stairway leading to it,” was an auditorium for community gatherings. The ‘working men’s reading room’ was located in the basement and entered by a door under the front stairs to avoid where “ladies might be gathered.”
From Bellingham.org, I learned that businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie gave grants to build 1,689 libraries across the United States — mostly in small towns — between 1883 and 1929. No wonder people like the Clark County Historical Society create self-guided tours like “Mr. Carnegie’s Grand Tour of Washington and Oregon.” With 1,689 libraries, that’s a great way to reinvent a road trip!