GPL Blog

From the Archives — August 2021

Last month, we learned all about the earliest iterations of the Galesburg Public Library, from the Young Men’s Literary Society to the first building at 221 E. Main Street. This month, we’ll learn about the next phase in our library’s story: The Carnegie Era.

As the city grew in the late 19th century, the library quickly outgrew the building on Main Street. Beginning in 1883, businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated money to cities all over the world to build public libraries. In 1901, Carnegie offered Galesburg $50,000 to build a new library, as long as the city agreed to maintain it. An additional $12,500 was raised via tax levy, and library construction began.

The Grand Staircase of the Carnegie Library.

The new building on Simmons Street officially opened in 1902. With the new space, library staff was able to expand services: in 1906 the precursor to the archives was established when the Knox County Historical Society donated materials; the first children’s story hour began in 1910; and the reference department was established in 1914. Building improvements continued as well, like when an elevator was installed in 1925 for $2,262.

The new building was not without its troubles, however. In May 1929, a small fire occurred resulting in $8,196.48 in damages. Later, in 1945, four small fires were set throughout the building, causing more than $20,000 in damages.

A children’s storytime in 1931.

Many Galesburgers reminisce about the Carnegie Library. From the grand staircase to the glass floors, it was a sight to behold. Next month, we’ll dig into the 1958 fire that destroyed the building, and the rebirth into the next period in the library’s history.

The Galesburg Public Library Archives houses thousands of materials relating to Galesburg, Knox County, and Illinois history. Questions about the materials? Visit the archives page or contact Emily at

Originally published in The Burg.