The People of Worcester are a Reading People

Plaque outside the Greendale branch of the Worcester Public Library.

By Timothy Jarvis

Plaque outside the Greendale branch of the Worcester Public Library.
Plaque outside the Greendale branch of the Worcester Public Library.

Andrew Carnegie was one of the best-known industrialists of the 19th century as the founder and chairman of Carnegie Steel Company. The company was among the most successful of the monopolies in America, on par with the Rockefeller and Standard Oil era. As such, Carnegie is identified as one of the richest persons to live, and one of the richest Americans ever. But Carnegie wasn’t just a businessman; he was also a philanthropist, donating large sums of money and penning the 1889 article “The Gospel of Wealth,” which called on the rich to use their wealth to improve society.

Though a savvy business man, Carnegie’s true passion was in literature and making books accessible to the public. Towards the end of Carnegie’s life, from 1901 to 1919, he used his donated books and built libraries throughout the country. In all, Carnegie gave away about 90 percent of his wealth to establish libraries. In Worcester, the Greendale, Quinsigamond, and South Worcester libraries were all built from Carnegie’s donations, so others could share in his passion for literature.

Carnegie’s philanthropy reached the city of Worcester in 1913, and was a special place for him because of the city’s industrial nature and focus on education. The plan was for the Industrialist to donate $75,000 for the construction of the three branch library buildings. Carnegie also made a point to attend the ceremonies for the opening of all three libraries due to his attraction to Worcester. The event was reported by The Worcester Evening Post on March 26, 1913; both Carnegie and his wife were present, though, due to bad weather, few others attended.

The conditions didn’t stop city officials from excitedly welcoming Carnegie to the city. The Mayor at the time, George M. Wright, along with former Mayor James Logan, led the ceremony. Logan opened negotiations for Cargnie to contribute to the branch libraries during his time in office as addressed in his inaugural speech on January 3, 1910.

The mayor gave Carnegie a gift from the city of Worcester at the end of the event. A silver trowel used to lay the last of the cornerstone was to mark the occasion. Also, a sealed metal box lies in each of the three cornerstones containing clippings from several Worcester newspapers in reference to the libraries as gifts to the city, and copies of the library bulletin.

The mayor spoke at the ceremony saying:

Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie, ladies and gentlemen–
When a man makes extraordinary success in life, whether in business, art, or science, he attains a position of honor; but when a man devotes the fruits of that success toward the mental, moral and physical betterment of his brother men, he is entitled to a loftier place in the fame of the world.
One of the greatest products of this age is Andrew Carnegie. He is a living example of one of the highest types of manhood this world has ever known. Starting with only himself as capital — yet what a wonderful capital that has proven to be — he earned stupendous success through unflagging energy and then went about to distribute this bounty where it would do the most good for all.
Andrew Carnegie believes the greatest blessing of his wealth to be the privilege it gives him of disposing of it in the several ways his keen judgment has told him is best in the interests of all humanity.
He is striving to amalgamate the nations of the world in a union of peace. He seeks to do away with our heritage of early-day barbarism — war. He is giving his millions toward the education of all people, and thus is working to abolish the sins of erring mankind, for as one, I believe most of the sins of this world are bred in ignorance.
The people of a nation who have recourse to the best books are fortified in the beginning, against many of the temptations of the world to which unknowingly they might fall prey.
I consider it a great honor and privilege, as mayor of the city of Worcester, to extend to you, Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie, the welcome of all the people of this municipality. We want you to know that the people of the heart of the commonwealth of Massachusetts appreciate your great generosity.
We are gathered in a section of our city where many products are made by skilled hands, where men and women work through the days for their support and the support of their families, where they, too, have time as well to seek diversion and knowledge.
The people of Worcester are a reading people. They keep closely in touch with the affairs of the world today and they seek to learn from the accomplishments of the past what they may best do toward the good of all today and on the morrow.
The first of the three libraries constructed was the South Worcester Branch library on 105 Southbridge Street, right near Cambridge Street. The land was given for the building site by Matthew J. Whittall and Alfred Thomas who were, at the time, Worcester residents. Henry D. Whitefield designed the South Worcester branch in a Classical Revival style as he was a prominent American architect.
Here the mayor said:
Mr. Carnegie, on this site is being built what will be known as the South Worcester branch. The land was given by Mr. Matthew J. Whittall and Mr. Alfred Thomas, leaders in the manufacturing enterprises of our city.
This section of Worcester is thickly populated. These homes that you see all about us are dwelling places of some of the highest types of citizens, of which we may boast. They are a people who gladly give a full measure of work to their employers, and employers who cooperate with their employes toward mutual benefit and satisfaction.
South Worcester appreciates what you have done, Mr. Carnegie. I am glad to be the spokesman of the people of this busy section of our city and to say that as the years roll on your name will be revered and that even after all of us have given way and a new generation of sons and daughters of Worcester take up the work we lay down, this library, so freely given by you will stand and dispense its rich rewards, and that the thousands who will receive its benefits will give honor to your name.
The second built was the Quinsigamond branch on 830 Millbury Street a fitting location because the Worcester American Steel and Wire Company was close by; something Carnegie intended. The library was aesthetically a Worcester landmark with the Fuller and Delano firm as the creators. This Worcester architecture firm designed the library to fit into the city’s display.

The mayor also spoke here saying:

The site upon which we now stand was given to the city by the American steel & wire company. The directors of the company realized, as soon as they learned of Mr. Carnegie’s gift, that they had an opportunity of helping this cause, and they gladly took advantage of it. They realize that this library, the Quinsigamond branch, will afford for the hundreds of men and women who do their work, and for the hundreds more that comprise their families, a treasury of knowledge from which they may draw in the years that are to come.
The people of Quinsigamond appreciate this splendid gift, and they will prove with the years that this investment will be a paying one and that the seed that is sown today will not fall on barren ground.
The third branch was Greendale on 470 West Boylston Street marked the final of Cargine’s funds. Norton Company, the Worcester industrial power house, donated the land for the building site of Greendale. Norton company spearheaded the Greendale improvement association which aimed to make Worcester a prosperous city aside from industry. Along with Norton was: the Morgan spring company, the Osgood-Bradley car company, the Heald machine company, the Worcester pressed steel company, the Allen Higgins wall paper company, the Walker grinding machine company, and Young brothers company.

The mayor also spoke in Greendale stating:

Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie, ladies and gentlemen–

In completing the happy work of laying the cornerstones of the three Carnegie branch libraries, we come to one of the most beautiful sections of our city which we call Greendale. This is a section of successful manufacturing on a large scale, and of comfortable homes.
The Greendale manufacturers are identified in this library through the gift of this land. It was given by the Norton company, Morgan spring company, Osgood Bradley car company, the Heald machine company, Allen-Higgins wallpaper company, Walker grinder company, Young brothers and Norton grinding company.
Mr. Carnegie, we rejoice that in these three branch libraries, whose cornerstones we lay today, through you, we have a working basis for better citizenship and more enlightenment in the every-day affairs of life that are to come. I want to reiterate the gratitude of Worcester for this gift. Our appreciation, in the official way, has been expressed by the city council and by the directors of our Free public library.
The history of this enterprise shows that Mayor James Logan called Mr. Carnegie ’s attention to Worcester ’s need of branches to our public library. The result was that Mr. Carnegie furnished $75,000 for this purpose. The city of Worcester has pledged itself to maintain these libraries, and I believe this will be one of the most pleasant duties the city will have to perform.
As Mr. Logan said, in his message to the city council, January 3, 1910, a library is more than a simple store-house for books. It is one of the creative agencies of civilization. Its function is to awaken interest and inform the seeker after knowledge.
All the companies contributed to make the building project possible for the Greendale branch. This one designed by Lucius Briggs made it feel right at home in Worcester as he too was an architect from the city.
All three branches opened to the public in February 1914, and Worcester’s library system changed for time to come. Over the next 50 years four additional branches made their appearance in the city. Tatnuck Square, Main South, Billings Square, and Great Brook Valley branches opened after Carnegie’s death in 1919 outliving his legacy. Carnegie truly impacted Worcester in terms of public libraries and valuing education.
As for the original branches today the South Worcester library was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Also, it was part of the Worcester Public Library system until its official closure in 1990. Quinsigamond Branch was added to the list in the same year, but now serves as part of the Quinsigamond Elementary School. The Greendale branch remains open today, also listed as a historic place alongside it sister libraries.

The Worcester Public Library system is arguably a product of its industrial age, and the act of philanthropy. The historic city will continue to value public knowledge and Carnegie’s legacy for a long time to come.

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