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FROM BOOKS TO BOARDERS: The Evolution of Carnegie Guest House

by | Sep 21, 2020 | Davidson History

photo courtesy of Davidson College

Ever wonder how Carnegie Guest House, Davidson College’s on campus guest retreat, got its name? It is rooted in the college’s past.

Photos of the book move from the college archives.

In 1906, steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $20,000 to build a Davidson College Carnegie Library. This library was one of 2,509 libraries sponsored by Carnegie between 1883 and 1929, including some belonging to public and university library systems.

College president Henry Louis Smith procured funds to match Carnegie’s investment, and in 1910, this new library replaced the original college library located in the Chambers building. It remained open until 1941, with full time librarian, Cornelia Shaw.

Carnegie’s passion for libraries was rooted in his youth. Born in Scotland to a poor family, Carnegie’s family moved to the United States to escape famine. While he worked for the railroad by day, at night he immersed himself in Pittsburgh’s free public library. Later, as a wealthy steel baron, he spent years building free community libraries across the country. Johnson C Smith University in Charlotte also has a Carnegie Library.

In an article in the Davidson College Archives, Shaw recalled, “For 50 years, the library of Davidson College was housed in a room that never any heating or lighting. For three years, I wore a muffler and rubber sandals on the cold days, and kept the windows open because it was warmer outside than in.”

She also noted, “Each man coming in was supposed to have on his coat, just as he does in the classroom or his mother’s parlor.”

Due to a growing collection and lack of space in the Carnegie Library, the college decided to move the library to the recently finished Grey Building in 1941. Rather than use carts to move the books, the college chose to stage a book brigade. Students lined up “single file, three feet apart by classes” and all 39,000 books were passed from person to person.

After the Carnegie Library was vacated, it was renovated into a guesthouse and home to the campus YMCA headquarters. In 1972, the building became the temporary college union until a new one was constructed. Finally, in 1976, the Carnegie Library building was permanently remodeled as a guesthouse, containing seven bedrooms and three bathrooms to accommodate guests to the college

Andrea Nordstrom Caughey

Andrea Nordstrom Caughey is a magazine editor and lifelong writer who hit the jackpot moving to Davidson from California.

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