150 Boise Icons: Carnegie Library

awebb@idahostatesman.comMarch 5, 2013 

Did you know? In addition to money from Andrew Carnegie, local contributions and a land donation from the Boise School District made the library possible.


Like more than 2,500 other cities, Boise got its first dedicated library building thanks to steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.

But the women of the Columbian Club, one of Boise's oldest - and still active - service clubs, had a lot to do with it.

Libraries were clearly dear to the women's hearts. In 1895, they established Boise's first library and reading room in City Hall.

When the philanthropic Carnegie program began, it required cities to guarantee matching funds to maintain libraries after they were built. Club members lobbied city leaders to get that guarantee.

The Carnegie Library opened at 815 W. Washington St. in the summer of 1905. It remained there for seven decades.

In 1973, the library moved to today's location, the former Salt Lake Hardware building on Capitol Boulevard. Fortunately for residents, city leaders decided that buying and renovating the hardware building was more cost-effective than tearing down the old library and rebuilding on Washington Street.

The Huntley Law Firm, Fund for Idaho, Mujeres Unidas and others now occupy the Greek Revival/Romanesque building.

The library's fireplace, complete with frieze of horses and riders, is still intact, along with the original circulation desk. The dumbwaiter that once lifted books from the basement is gone.

Dreamy, color-saturated murals painted by Olaf Moller in the 1930s remain in the basement, the former children's book area. A painting of Neptune in his underwater kingdom hangs in the office of the Idaho Academic Decathlon. A mural of a prince with a page-boy haircut approaching a reclining woman on a beach hangs in the ladies room.

The Carnegie name is still visible on the building's facade.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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