Library Postcards: Civic Pride in a Lost America

Willkommen, dudes!


Please see Carnegie Libraries of Wisconsin, K - R and S - W for the rest of this page, and Wisconsin Libraries A - L, Wisconsin Libraries M - N, or Wisconsin Libraries O - Z for the rest of Wisconsin's public libraries.

The beginnings of my obsession: Wisconsin

5 Antigo views

As the twentieth century dawned, the tycoons we remember as 'Robber Barons' actually had a sense of corporate responsiblity.

Andrew Carnegie may have been the most visible, with his committment to public libraries. But because these small dedicated library buildings are no longer considered functional in a twenty-first century world of electronic information, our children may never see these libraries except in photographs.

Some communities--notably Antigo, Wisconsin and Mendota, Illinois--preserved these buildings as museums. Others, such as Waukesha, Wisconsin and Rhinelander, Wisconsin, incorporated them into a larger facility. Unfortunately, many have been razed.

Not all Carnegie library buildings are works of architectural splendor, which may have contributed to the drive to replace them before the passage of the ADA and the adoption of computer systems made it essential. Tuscola, Illinois had a building that looked in its postcard as if it was constructed of cement facing blocks and soot. (It looks better now!) Many looked nearly identical, such as those of Marseilles and Milford, Illinois. Different is not always better, though. Iola, Kansas had an especially homely Carnegie building.

Just as e-mail is linked in our minds with a current library benefactor, Bill Gates, postcards were the rapid communication of their day. Many of the cards in my collection bear messages eerily resembling today's quick e-mails exchanged among family and friends. In the small cities across the U.S., a postcard of the local library--perhaps built by the generosity of Andrew Carnegie--carried the word to those who needed it. Today's libraries provide Internet access that helps those away from home to electronically mail the same types of information.

Wisconsin Carnegie Libraries,
Cities A - C

63 Carnegie Libraries were located in Wisconsin towns. Antigo, Rhinelander, and Waukesha are those with which I am most familiar. Information about other Wisconsin libraries has been taken from the pertinent library's website. In some cases, information comes from Larry T. Nix directly, or from his wonderful website, Library History Buff. In rare cases, information comes from Carnegie Libraries: Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development, by George S. Bobinski. Unfortunately, a few of the smallest libraries have no Internet presence; and libraries with the flashiest sites seem to have no sense of history.


The county seat of Langlade County received Carnegie funding in March of 1903. Construction is dated 1904. The Georgian Revival structure was designed by Allan D. Conover, but the Wisconsin State Historical Society credits C.F. Dallman as the local architect. Mattefs Bros. Construction was also heavily involved in its construction, especially the distinctive stone masonery foundation.
An astonishing number of postcards are available for this hamlet, which never broke 10,000 in population in its heyday.

Antigo Carnegie Library, Antigo, WI Antigo Carnegie Library, Antigo, WI Antigo Carnegie Library, Antigo, WI
1906 postmark.
Photo appears to be during construction.
Note tar tank at the left,
and rear windows clearly visible through front.
1909 postmark.
Caption 'Carnegie Library and Teacher's Training School.'
1911 postmark.
Antigo Carnegie Library, Antigo, WI Antigo Carnegie Library, Antigo, WI Antigo Carnegie Library, Antigo, WI
Appears to be a color version of the 1911 card. Curt Teich postcard. Photo postcard, probably by A.J. Kingsbury.
Mailed 1925.
Antigo Carnegie Library, Antigo, WI Antigo Carnegie Library, Antigo, WI Antigo Carnegie Library, Antigo, WI
E.C. Kropp card, sent 1938.
Note the growth of the plantings surrounding the library.
E.C. Kropp card, sent 1951.
Monochrome version of the earlier card.
Very similar to card directly above.
Antigo Carnegie Library, Antigo, WI
Clearly part of a series including the libraries of
Clintonville, Ladysmith, and Medford.

There is even a modern (1997) view of the old library, just prior to its conversion to the county historical society.


Arcadia Carnegie Library, Arcadia, WI Arcadia Carnegie Library, Arcadia, WI

Grant from March 14, 1905. Dedicated in 1907. Still in use.

(L) Many things should be sublimated in a library. Iodine crystals are not one of them. Card published by the Massure Co. and mailed in 1910.
(R) Keller photo: postcard mailed in June of 1907, shortly before the library's dedication.


Baraboo Carnegie Library, Baraboo, WI Baraboo Carnegie Library, Baraboo, WI

1902 grant. Still in use.

Typical Carnegie building in an unusual town best known for its circus museum and Ringling Theater. Surprisingly, a 1903 Louis Claude design. Remodeling architects include Strang Partners.

(L) Printed in Baraboo sometime after 1911.
(R) Older card from an unknown publisher, with an unevenly divided back.

Baraboo Carnegie Library, Baraboo, WI

(L) Clear, well-focused photo postcard, mailed in 1910. There is some construction, or othe, debris by the back corner of the library building.


Barron, WI, Public Library

What a frieze!

1912 grant, in the Prairie architecture phase. Still in use as a library.

Denison Publishing is to blame for this odd tint job.


Bayfield, WI

An illustration of the need for disaster planning.

Doing a little surfing on the net reveals the possibility that this card was produced by G.L. Larsen of Fond du Lac.

Here's a page with more photos of the flood's aftermath. I believe most of these are by the same person, or at least taken with the same camera. There's a light leak in the same position on my card and most of the RPPC shown on the 'Summer of 42' site.

Bayfield, WI, Carnegie Library

Early 1903 grant. Built in 1904. Still in use.
More library history on the library's site. (I want the dogsled picture!)

This photo card postdates the flood and was produced by L.L. Cook of Milwaukee. It carries a 1947 postmark. Notice the two tones of brick used: it's much more evident on the library's site.


Beloit, WI Carnegie library Beloit, WI Carnegie library

1901 grant.

An artist's rendition on the old BPL website implied that the old building was incorporated into the next iteration: Nix states the Carnegie building was razed instead.

Beloit College's library also received a Carnegie grant.

The newest BPL building is quite modern in appearance and resembles many of the midwest's showcase library buildings.

Beloit, WI Carnegie library

(L) E.C. Kropp linen finish card.


Berlin, WI Carnegie library Berlin, WI Carnegie library

Typical Carnegie library, built after a 1903 grant. What's not so typical is that it still serves as a library, albeit one with a new addition.

(L) Rather ordinary monochrome card published by H.E. Genske of Plymouth, Wisconsin.
(R) Gently tinted E.C. Kropp card printed on pebbled paper.

 Black River Falls

Black River Falls, WI Carnegie library Black River Falls, WI Carnegie library

This northern Wisconsin town boasts an atypical Carnegie building, now used as the Jackson County Historical Society Museum. Part of the unusual appearance is that this was one of the latter Wisconsin Carnegie buildings (1915, from a 1914 grant). Many rural Wisconsin schools of the era also seem to share a similar plan.

(L) Atmospheric E.C. Kropp linen finish card.
(R) Postcard reverse reads:

A handsome red brick structure maintained by the city. $10,000 of the initial cost came from the Andrew Carnegie Library Fund.

Bobinski concurs with that figure.

 Chippewa Falls

Chippewa Falls, WI Carnegie library Chippewa Falls, WI Carnegie library

The crest bears a 1902 date, which matches the year of the Carnegie grant.

(L) Stark composition emphasizes the Romanesque roots of this building.
(R) Something about the composition made the library look as if it tilted backwards. We don't know the photographer, but the card was produced by E.C. Kropp of Milwaukee, and was mailed in 1916.

Chippewa Falls, WI Carnegie library Chippewa Falls, WI Carnegie library

(L) I have had this card for many years, but its identity struck me during the November, 2012 revision. The unusual crest and chimney were the ultimate clues.
There are a lot of details on this card: the standpipe, the bell tower, the tree (to the left of the entrance), little girls, and a man in uniform talking with a boy on the library steps. It also shows that its roof was corrugated metal, and that the chimney was braced in two places. It does make me wonder if the library's construction may not have been very sturdy overall.
(R) Card mailed in 1944.

 Clintonville (Finney Library)

Clintonville, WI Carnegie library Clintonville, WI Carnegie library

So beautiful it could make you cry.

1915 grant, in the heights of the 'what can we do to the basic plan to make it especially wonderful?' phase. The panel over the door shows a figure with either stacks of books or gas cans. The door frame has molded terra cotta decoration. Little squares on the doors echo the frames. Where other communities made the obligatory lamp standards out of iron, these look like terra cotta.
Bet they fared well in a Wisconsin winter. I wonder when they actually failed?

Further details come from the Wisconsin Library Bulletin, in an article by Margaret Gilpin, who stated that the brick used was Critex shale brick, and that the basement contained an auditorium and a club room.

Clintonville, WI Carnegie library Clintonville, WI Carnegie library

(L) Millbauer the Druggist's postcard.
(R) Amazing photo card, again with construction debris, never mailed.

Do you think this beauty is still in use?

Beware the .pdf file above.

However, I was fortunate enough to be travelling through Clintonville in September, 2010, during a street festival that shut down old US 45.

Photo copyright 2010 by Judy Aulik Photo copyright 2010 by Judy Aulik Photo copyright 2010 by Judy Aulik
2010 photo taken by the author.
The building is occupied by O'Connor Realty.
Close-up photo of the entrance. Plaque, dated 1916, honoring Mr. Carnegie.


Columbus, WI Carnegie library Columbus, WI Carnegie library

Postmarked 1913.

Designed by Claude and Starck, and built in 1912, this is one of my favorite library buildings. Evidently the powers that be agree, since it was placed on the State Register of Historic Places in 1991. Only minor renovations were needed for ADA compliance.
The city has seen fit to keep it in use, and the library celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2002.

Photo by author, August 2010

Text from plaque:

The Prairie Style Library was designed by Louis W. Claude (former associate of Louis Sullivan) and Edward F. Starck of Madison, Wisconsin, and built with funding from Andrew Carnegie and the Columbus Women's Club. The library was dedicated November 1, 1912. In 1990, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and became handicapped accessible with a new entrance.

Columbus is also famous for its Louis Sullivan designed bank, and for its intersection of Ludington (STH 73) and James (STH 16-60) Streets, used in the movie 'Public Enemies' as a stand-in for 1930s Chicago.


Cumberland, WI Carnegie library Cumberland, WI postcard

(L) Photo card postmarked 1957.
(R) Hammersmith card postmarked 1906.

Grant, 1905. Built, 1906. Still in use.

On both the State and the National Register of Historic Places.

Are you wondering what is in the windows? Those are cutouts of clowns.
Evil, evil clowns.
I'm sure they're gone now.

Author's comments

To the best of my knowledge, the majority of these cards has reached the public domain by virtue of the postcards' age. I claim full copyright on the text, which may be used in citation only. Also, I claim copyright on the scans, although given their quality, you might wonder why.

I hope to update this site as I locate more cards and find more references.

© 2003 - 2012 Judy Aulik

Divided: 21 November 2012.