The centennial of Sherman’s public library as an institution has passed — that occasion occurred way back on July 12, 2011 — and the centennial of the Andrew Carnegie-donated building that housed that institution for nearly 6o years is technically still 13 months away. But for the folks of the Sherman Museum — the Carnegie building’s current occupants — their National-Register-of-Historic-Places-certified digs are worthy of a year-long celebration.
“Construction was stated on the building in 1914, and the library opened its doors in July of 1915,” said Sherman Museum Curator Chris Rumohr. “Sherman was a cultural center. Andrew Carnegie knew that libraries brought education, so that was his main purpose, was to educate those who probably were unable to continue their schooling.”
In the first of a series of events celebrating the Carnegie building’s history, the Sherman Museum hosted a speech Thursday night by Betty Mitchell, whose great-aunt Mattie Lucas was instrumental in securing the steel baron’s philanthropy. Mitchell brought to the museum several historical items once owned by Lucas, including materials from Lucas’ time as a 19th-century grade school teacher.
“At the age of 15, she got a certificate from the county judge saying she was qualified to teach school,” said Mitchell. “She was interested in history and was basically responsible for getting the Andrew Carnegie grant for the Andrew Carnegie library.”
Sherman’s Carnegie library was one of 32 such facilities built throughout the state of Texas between 1898 and 1915, 13 of which remain standing today. The present-day museum was the city’s sole library from 1915 to 1972, when the book depository relocated to its current location on Travis Street.
In order to receive the $20,000 grant to build the structure, city leaders had to agree to several conditions, including pre-purchasing the $2,500 lot at the corner of Jones and Walnut streets; providing a yearly, $2,000 stipend of city funds so the library could be operated free-of-charge to the public; and granting final-approval of the building to Carnegie himself.
“The new Carnegie library building was open to the public on July 10, 1915,” says a newspaper report recounting the facility’s provenance. “Included in the building were two reading rooms, a reference room, magazine room, and the librarian’s office on the first floor. In addition, the lower level housed a lecture hall with a seating capacity of 250.”
In that same lecture hall Thursday evening, Mitchell addressed the few dozen gatherers and recounted the life of her long-lost relation, including a passion that led to the roof over their heads. It was a fitting way to start a year-long remembrance for one of Sherman’s most storied institutions.
“The cornerstone reads ‘Sherman Public Library 1914,’ but the grand opening was in July of 1915,” said Mitchell. “Tonight, we’re recognizing and kicking-off the centennial of the Sherman Public Library and the Carnegie building.”