The Webb City Public Library features native stone.

Ancestors, Legends & Time

Webb City’s Carnegie Library is among the few remaining with a library still as its purpose

Jeanne Newby

One of my favorite buildings (one of many) in Webb City is our Andrew Carnegie Library at First and Liberty streets. It has such a quiet peaceful history and has managed to increase in size with integrity.

The architecture of the library was designed by Grant C. Miller, of Chicago. At the time, Mr. Grant had supervised the building of more than 50 libraries. The architecture style of the Webb City Public Library is considered a combination of gothic and modern. As much as possible, native materials were used in the building of the library. They used limestone boulders, gravel and sand from the local mines for the foundation and the walls. They also used Carthage stone for the exterior trim.

The Civic Improvement Association, a group of Webb City ladies, showed determination that resulted in Webb City’s dream of a library coming true. Many correspondences between the ladies and the Carnegie Corporation of New York secured a promise of $25,000 in which to build a library on the condition that the people of Webb City purchase the site and vote for a maintenance tax on the library.

By an overwhelming majority, a mill tax was approved on the sixth day of April, 1913. Thanks to many donations from citizens, the southeast corner of Liberty and First streets was purchased from Mr. and Mrs. Andrew McCorkle.

Special attention was given to the inside of this magnificent building from floor to ceiling. The floors were covered with a “ear-ever,” noiseless, battleship linoleum that gave the impression of walking on air. The arched walls and ceilings were painted in an exquisite manner. The tables, chairs, and shelves were made of oak. The building contained an excellent system of lighting, heating and ventilation. The cost of the building came to $23,944.20. Once the architecture fees were added, the building of the library plus the furniture used a little bit over the $25,000 donated by the Carnegie Corporation.

Webb City had its library, a building that was a pride of the community. To continue the use of natural, local material, the west exterior wall, on the north end, near the door was placed a large chunk of zinc taken from a local mine. Lead and zinc were added to the exterior on each side of the front door. An arched canopy was added over the front door in 1957.

In 1968, the library purchased 1 1/2 lots from the Woodworths, located to the east of the library. This allowed off-street parking for the library.

The Webb City Carnegie Library outgrew the building, as did most of the libraries built with Carnegie funds. But instead of moving to a new location as most other libraries chose to do. Webb City took on the challenge of preserving history. In April of 2004, the 91-year-old-building underwent treatment for expansion. It was an amazing building project that looks as if the new addition was part of the original building. The Webb City Library is still an architectural beauty.

As time marches on, the Webb City Library has found itself making changes to accommodate the needs of the citizens. In 1989, as genealogy became an addictive pastime, the south room in the basement was set up as the history room.

Fred Spille’s lifetime collection of historical clippings were donated and volunteers started organizing the local history for easy access. Microfilm and microfiche were acquired and the history room became a very popular addition to the library. In fact it became so popular that it was necessary to move the history room to the north side of the basement where there was more room and it continued to grow.

Modern Technology brought computers to the library to be set up for public use. Room had to be made to accommodate the computers. A library that had extra room on 1915 was beginning to bulge at the seems in 2002.The history room was running out of space. Handicap access could get the patrons into the basement but there was no way to get them to the main floor. Webb City had reached that point where they had outgrown their cherished Carnegie library.

Thankfully, plans for an addition to the library would be added to the existing building using the additional land purchased in 1968. The plans included matching the architecture of the new addition to match the architecture of the original building. The library had the third floor designated for the Genealogy Floor (History room.) There is easy access to the library main floor with use of the elevator that goes from basement meeting rooms to main floor to third floor, They were able to keep the original front door that is a beautiful architectural masterpiece and still makes the unusual sound that it has made since 1915, that causes every eye to look up to see if it’s a friend coming in!

Webb City still has the notoriety of having an existing Andrew Carnegie library with an updated interior to accommodate the needs of the library patrons. The Webb City Public Library is a building of pride and Joy in our beautiful collection of historical sites to see.

More history of local buildings will be discussed in the next few editions of the Webb City Sentinel.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.

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