Union County Library System, Union Carnegie Library

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Awarded:

  • American Libraries Design Showcase Recognition, 2020
  • SC Historic Preservation Honor Award, 2019
  • Library Journal Award, 2019

At the turn of the 20th Century, steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie created one of the most far reaching philanthropic programs in the nation’s history, donating millions of dollars to create thousands of libraries. In South Carolina, 15 of these Carnegie Libraries were eventually established, however The Carnegie Free Library in Union County bears the distinction of being the first. Commissioned in 1903 and constructed in 1905, the Union Carnegie Free Library was built at a time of nationally increasing optimism and locally growing prosperity. As a rural town, Union was much affected by the economic downturn common across the agrarian South post-Civil War. As textile and industrial opportunity grew for towns like Union, so too did literacy and interest in Public Libraries. Today, the Library is one of only four Carnegie Libraries remaining in the state, and less than 1,000 in the nation.

Designed by the regionally well-known firm Wheeler & Runge, the Beaux Arts style building occupied an important place in the town’s day-to-day life, both physically and symbolically. Its iconic portico-in-antis and distinctive copper cupola offered citizens a sense of pride in their collective civic accomplishment.

Over the ensuing decades, through wars and social upheaval, library staff often struggled with operational challenges, including maintaining sufficient funding, managing proper upkeep of the building and its collection, and meeting the community’s evolving needs and interests.

The historic structure was added to the National Register in 1983 as part of the South Street Historic District, forever cementing it as part of the fabric of Union County history. By 1986, the surrounding region had grown enough that local residents were able to re-invest in the facility through an addition that more than doubled the existing space and reinvigorated support for the library as a key part of the historic downtown’s character.

Decades later, a preservation and upgrade project sought to not only restore the glory of the original building design, but to also return the library to the community as a beacon of enlightenment and a catalyst for conversation, collaboration, and innovation among residents of all ages.

Union County and the town of Union have witnessed numerous evolutions since the Carnegie Free Library was built in 1905. Built as a gift from a visionary tycoon to an inquiring and curious populace at the turn of the 20th century, the restored library now offers another generation of residents the same sense of wonder and excitement as their ancestors while equipping them with 21st-century tools to continue their community’s story.