Spring Garden Library
The Spring Garden Library at 17th and Spring Garden Streets was built with money from Andrew Carnegie in 1907, land donated by Baldwin Locomotive Works, and architecture design by in the Collegiate Gothic style. It closed in 1955 and was repurposed as the Library for the Blind (now at 1500 SG) and was demolished in 1971, as were buildings south and west of it as part of the Franklin Town project. In 1903 Carnegie (1835-1919) donated $1.5 million to build 30 libraries in Philadelphia. 25 were built. Carnegie also funded one third of the nearly $289,266 needed to build the College of Physicians on 22nd Street in 1909 (home of the Mutter Museum).
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was a Scottish-born industrialist and philanthropist. He apprenticed under Tom Scott, a railroader and President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In the second half of the 10th century in America, there were four men vying to become America's wealthiest man: Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877, railroads), John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937, oil), J. Pierpont Morgan (1867-1913, finance), and Carnegie (steel). All, except Morgan, were self-made visionaries who built profit-maximizing industries, and all, including Morgan, were ruthless. Carnegie was probably the least ruthless. After the Johnstown Flood killed o2,208 people in 1899, the fishing club owned by Pittsburgh society men was blamed for the poor upkeep of the dam. In 1892, Carnegie associate Henry Frick violently squashed a strike at the Homestead Steel Works while Carnegie was vacationing in Scotland. Carnegie felt guilt over both events and decided to contribute to the public good. This intensified when he sold Carnegie Steel to J. P. Morgan for $480 million in 1901 ($14 billion today's dollars), thereby becoming the wealthiest man in America. He vowed to give it all away, and he did give away 90% of his wealth before he died.
Carnegie had dabbled in philanthropy in the 1880's, but after 1890 he upped the ante. He built Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1891. He built the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1900. Lower brow but more cherished by the lower classes was his funding of free public libraries throughout the world. Twenty five of those would be in Philadelphia. He donated $1.5 million to fund construction of 30 branch libraries, with the stipulation that the City would provide the land and then have to fund maintenance, staffing, and books. It was estimated that this would total about one tenth of Carnegie's bequest per year, $150,000, and the City officials took over a year to debate the merits of the gift. In 1903 the gift was eventually accepted with the stipulations, and construction began.
The Spring Garden Branch Library opened as the 7th Carnegie library in Philadelphia on November 18, 1907, at the southwest corner of Spring Garden and 17th Streets. It was designed by the architecture firm of Field and Medary. The third United States Mint had just been built six years earlier just on the other side of 17th Street, the same year a new Baldwin locomotive Building went up at Spring Garden and 16th Streets..
1907 photo of the new library from here.
The floor below had a 500-seat auditorium for lectures.
The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is now one block away on the second floor at 1500 Spring Garden Street.
The Spring Garden Street branch closed in 1955, the Central Branch of the Free Library being only four blocks away. In 1957 the branch building reopened as the Library for the Blind, until the building was demolished in 1975. The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped was relocated to the Robert Morris Building at 919 Walnut Street. In 2018 it moved back to the neighborhood at 1500 Spring Garden Street, Suite 230.
Of the 25 Carnegie libraries opened between 1906 and 1930, 16 still function as libraries. Three have undergone conversion for other uses, and six have been razed. You can get a quick summary of the architects of the 25 libraries at outside link here and see postcards of the 25 libraries on outside link here.
There is another Carnegie connection, this one to the Central library, not a branch library. The Central Library began in a corner of City Hall in 1891, then moved to the 1200 block of Chestnut Street. It quickly outgrew this site as well. At the northeast corner of 13th and Locust Street was the fifth home of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. When Thomas Mutter died in 1859, he bequeathed his medical specimens to the College of Physicians with the condition that they build a fire-proof building to house it. A new two-story building on 13th and Locust was that building, completed in 1863. A third story was added in 1885. The growing collection required more space, and a site was chosen at 22nd and Ludlow Street. Andrew Carnegie contributed $100,000 of the $289,266 needed for construction, completed in 1909. When the College of Physicians moved out at 13th and Locust, the Central Branch of the Free Library moved in, and stayed there until the Parkway building was completed in 1929. Thanks to Carnegie, the library had upgraded digs for twenty years. For more see outside link here.