Andrew Carnegie and the Geneva Library

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Sarkauskas

The Geneva Public Library, like thousands of others, owes its existence to steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.

A $7,500 grant from one of his charitable foundations enabled Genevans slightly more than a century ago to resume and finish construction of the library at 127

James St.

But Carnegie was a shrewd giver -- he never gave money to operate libraries. He expected local governments to keep them running. To make sure they didn't abuse or waste his gift, covenants restricting the use of the buildings to libraries were placed on deeds.

That covenant has come to the forefront again in Geneva, as library officials plan to buy a new site and build a replacement library.

Can one sentence, written 103 years ago, thwart those plans?

Not likely, according to both library board President Esther Barclay and Jane Gorjevsky, curator of the Carnegie

Collections at Columbia

University Libraries in New York.

"There was never a requirement that the library remain in perpetuity," she said of the grants Carnegie made for 3,000-plus libraries. (Carnegie, primarily self-educated, was a voracious reader and a writer.)

The legalese is on the warranty deed for the property, dated Feb. 7, 1907, in which the Geneva Hall Co. deeded the site over to the city of Geneva:

"To have and to hold the same in trust, however, to and for the use and benefit of a free public library to be maintained thereon and for no other use or benefit whatever, and to that end to permit the board of directors of the Free Public Library of the Township of Geneva, Ill., without expense to said City of Geneva, to take possession of said premises and complete the building thereon and occupy and enjoy the free use and benefits thereof, to continue in such use, benefit and occupation of the same at all times. …