Monday, July 21, 2014

The 1932 Carnegie Library Fire

Carnegie Library after the fire
On October 2, 1905, the library at the State Normal and Industrial College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) moved from a small room in the Main building (now the Foust building) to the newly constructed Carnegie Library (now the Forney Building). Recognizing the ever growing need for more library space, College President Charles D. McIver contacted Andrew Carnegie, a well-known philanthropist and strong supporter of libraries, and asked for the funds needed to construct the building. Remarkably, he agreed to fund the entire project, which totaled $18,868 at its completion. This was surprising given that he has just supported the construction of two other libraries in Greensboro.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck the library on September 15, 1932, when it mysteriously caught fire. According to The Carolinian, the student run newspaper, the “fire broke out shortly before 3 o’clock and was reported by a workman who saw the flames as he was going to work.” Others noticed the fire as well, including an airmail pilot who had just left the airport when he saw the flames. In an effort to alert those on the ground, he flew his plane extremely low over the building, waking up many of the girls in the dormitories. A crowd of students and faculty members soon gathered around the building to watch as fireman frantically tried to extinguish the fire. The most serious damage occurred in the reading and library science room while the reserve room and most of the stacks were spared significant damage since they were protected by a vault-like structure that was closed before the flames could spread.

The final damage to the building and its contents, including the books, was estimated to be approximately $98,000 (or $1.6 million today). Afterwards, Mr. Charles H. Stone, the college Librarian, began the arduous task of rebuilding the damaged library collection. Books and materials that could be salvaged and saved were transported to the Students’ Building while materials in the stacks were left in place, but were not accessible to students. 

The Carnegie Library was rebuilt and remained the primary library on campus until June 1950 when the books were moved to a new, larger library building across the street, later named in honor of former Chancellor Walter Clinton Jackson.

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