Andrew Carnegie the American steel magnate was a man of contradictions. A 19th Century self-made man, and perhaps the wealthiest man in the world (worth $NZ557 billion in today's terms), he increased the hours and lowered the wages of his workers so that he could give larger philanthropic donations worldwide to his two projects: public libraries, and church pipe organs. Timaru benefited from a donation for each project. Fairlie also gained a Carnegie library.
After lengthy negotiations with Carnegie by the Mayor James Craigie, a gift of £3,000 was promised. Architect Walter Panton designed the classical Corinthian order building which was opened in June 1909. The builders were Messrs Hunt and Werry, and the stonemason Samuel McBride. It was built with a cellar; the ground floor housing the librarians' office and public newspaper and magazine room. Upstairs had the ladies' and children's room and the lending and reference library. Over the main entrance is a bust of Craigie, carved by Mr Hood, (who also worked on St Mary's Church).
The library also received a donation of £2,500 from the winding up of the Timaru Mechanics' Institute, donating their extensive library and fittings. As a condition of the Carnegie donation, the Council gifted the site to the public, and was to make the library free to ratepayers. But the Council then realized that since a tenant also pays rates via one's landlord, the library should indeed be free to all residents.
The main Council offices were built to adjoin the Library. Following the internal renovations to both buildings in 2005, there is now no internal trace of the first Timaru Public Library although the external lettering remains.
View by date