Prior to 1870 the only libraries in Carthage were private affairs, owned by local individuals such as doctors or lawyers. In January of 1870 the first public library was opened, located above the local newspaper office of the Carthage Banner. Over the next few years the library was bounced around to several different locations in town. By 1890 the need for a permanent library had become apparent. An application was submitted to Andrew Carnegie for funding and a search for a suitable site began. The location selected was at the southeast corner of 7th Street and Garrison Avenue. One half of the site was donated by Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Hall in memory of their daughter Ruth. The other half of the property was purchased by a group of local concerned citizens. With an estimated overall cost of $45,000 dollars, $25,000 was contributed from Andrew Carnegie and the balance was raised by concerned citizens of Carthage.
Built in a French Renaissance style with a touch of Greek influence, the library was opened on February 2, 1905. The opening ceremonies lasted three days with the main address given by William King Caffee, who was the President of the library's Board of Trustees. The initial inventory of books numbered 3,000 and the first book checked out was Ben Hur by Lew Wallace.
Over the years numerous alterations have been made to the original structure. In 2003 with a need for more space, plans were submitted for a major expansion. An addition of 13,486 square feet was added to the north side of the original building. A ballot for a 3/16th cent tax was presented to the public and passed. The tax generated 2.5 million dollars that was paired with 2 million dollars raised from private donors. R. E. Smith Construction built the new addition and it opened May 29, 2007.
The 1905 library building that faces Seventh Street, still retains its original oak woodwork and a stained glass and plaster decorated dome over what was once the original check out counter. Now the area is used for displays of historic collections and the local history/reference section of the library.
To the east of the library is the E. L. Dale garden that hosts a sculpture of “Alice in Wonderland” by local artist Bill Snow. The garden grounds are neat and maintained by the Ozark Gateway Master Gardeners. Many other memorials are found throughout the garden area and a fountain at the eastern edge of the property has the names of many of the donors to the library's expansion project.
This entry was written by Duane Griffith, Missouri Southern State University Volunteer, Summer 2017.