“A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life,” said Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), speaker, abolitionist, and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The early residents of Charlotte agreed with Beecher and were determined to have a library in their city.
The Charlotte Library Association, organized in 1870, started with a private library. There was a semi-annual fee of $1 to be a member of the Charlotte Library Association. That dollar entitled you to one book and one magazine each week, and a voice in the management of the library. If not a member, you could pay ten cents to take a book out.
The first official public library was established in 1894. The Charlotte Common Council levied a tax to provide a free public library and reading room for the residents. But it had no set “home.”
In 1898, the library occupied a room in the courthouse-until the board of supervisors decided that they needed that room for the drain commissioner’s office. For a while, it was housed in a room over a downtown business and opened two afternoons each week. Everyone felt that it needed a permanent home.
In 1903 a discovery was made that the city charter required that all appointive offices be filled by qualified voters. At that time, women did not have the right to vote, so officially they were not allowed to be on the Charlotte Library Board. This was very frustrating for the women involved as they had stood by the library and taken care of it. The city charter was eventually altered to allow the library board to be exempt from this rule. The women still had to wait until 1918 to be allowed to vote, however.
After nine years of jumping from various rooms and rental spaces, they decided to contact Andrew Carnegie to see if he would help them build a permanent library.
A Carnegie Library is one built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie built 2,509 libraries between 1883 and 1929 in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and more. 61 were built in Michigan, and as of 2012, 50 are still standing with 26 that are still functioning as a library.
Carnegie believed that a free public library gave people the chance to educate and lift themselves up in terms of wealth and status.
On December 3, 1903, the Charlotte Carnegie Library opened at 200 North Cochran, with 9,000 books on its shelves.
With $12,000 coming from the Carnegie Foundation, the City of Charlotte also needed to appropriate $3,000 to the project for maintenance, and provide a proper site for the new library. The 1845 courthouse on the corner of Cochran and Harris was moved to create a prime location for the new building.
There was no requirement to have Carnegie’s name on the building, and the style of the library was to be chosen by the community.
Battle Creek architect E.W. Arnold designed the library. His plan was a two-story T-shaped building, the lower walls made from rough-cut fieldstone and the upper portion red brick. There was a round fieldstone tower, a hipped roof, and fluted columns on each side of the door.
“It’s slightly asymmetrical, but balanced,” it was described, and that it was “picturesque eclecticism that was a characteristic form of design at the time.”
The building included a large front room, a well-lit stack room, a general reading room, a second-story room mainly used by the library board, and a large room in the basement that was used for a children’s room.
An ad in the Dimondale News in 1939, reminded people to return their library books, warning of a three-cent fine on books kept over two weeks without renewal.
“These books are for everyone’s use and the good book must be kept in circulation. Check your shelves and see if you are a guilty possessor,” the article admonished.
Eventually, the Carnegie Library was unable to meet the needs of a more modern society. Lacking parking and handicap access, plus limited space inside led a group to fund a new library for Charlotte. After much fundraising, the current location for a new library was purchased in 1994 at 226 South Bostwick, a former grocery store. The Carnegie Library was sold for $75,000 to become a law office.