Big Horn County Library

By Carly-Ann Anderson

January 25, 2017

The Big Horn County Library was created in 1907 by the Book Lovers’ Club, an organization created by a group of women in Basin in 1906.  The library first opened to the public in the spring of 1907 in a room in the Big Horn County Bank Building.  The library was open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.  On June 29, 1908, the Big Horn County Library received a Carnegie Public Library Building grant for $17,500 to design and construct a Carnegie Library in the community.   

The cornerstone for the Carnegie building was laid on September 27, 1909, and the dedicated became a community-wide event.  Members of the Basin Lodge of Odd Fellows, the Basin Band, and members of Woman’s Club led a procession to the building site, followed by citizens of the community.  The students of Basin High School raised funds to purchase a stained glass window for the Carnegie Library.  

The Big Horn County Library Carnegie Building was demolished in 1954, less than 50 years after its construction.  Today’s library is distinctively mid-century with clean, horizontal lines, a low profile, flat roof, and banks of windows.   The stained glass window donated by the students of Basin High School was salvaged when the building was demolished in 1954, and was installed in the new library behind the circulation desk. 

Big Horn County Library as it appears today

Big Horn County Library as it appears today

“The community dedication shown by the construction and continued maintenance of Carnegie library buildings should not be forgotten,” says AHW Executive Director Carly-Ann Anderson.  “Like school buildings, churches, and neighborhoods, Wyoming’s Carnegie libraries are architectural gems and community landmarks.  We’re sorry that Basin’s Carnegie Building was torn down, but we can learn from the demolition of this and several other Carnegies.”  
 
The Alliance for Historic Wyoming (AHW) is celebrating historic Carnegie library buildings around Wyoming with a traveling exhibit.  The public is invited to view the exhibit at the Big Horn County Library in Basin through Friday, February 3, 2017.  The exhibit is sponsored in part by a grant from the Wyoming Humanities Council.

The Cowboy Carnegies campaign is part of the AHW’s “This Place Matters” program, highlighting the importance of preserving historic buildings and oral history accounts of historic places and spaces in Wyoming.   “We strongly urge Wyoming’s cities and counties to continue using these spaces, and we want to celebrate these preservation accomplishments in Wyoming through our Cowboy Carnegies campaign,” says Andrea Graham, the chair of the campaign. 

Carnegie libraries were so named because of the philanthropic generosity of Andrew Carnegie.  Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of 1,689 libraries across the country between 1889 and 1919 through construction grants to communities large and small. Wyoming had 16 Carnegie libraries, built between 1899 and 1917, a remarkable number for a state with a small and dispersed population. Today, just 10 Carnegie libraries remain standing, and five are still used as libraries. Carnegie libraries represent a fascinating era in community development in the United States, when philanthropic funds and local initiatives combined to create free public libraries that became centers of community learning and gathering. 

The Cowboy Carnegies exhibit, which consists of five panels detailing the history and architecture of Wyoming’s sixteen Carnegie libraries, will travel from Basin to Cody, where a Carnegie Library was constructed in 1916 and demolished in 1965.  

If your library, museum, or institution is interested in hosting the exhibit, you can contact the Alliance for Historic Wyoming at 307-333-3508 or by email at ExecDirector@HistoricWyoming.org.  The Alliance for Historic Wyoming is currently scheduling for late 2017

Read more about Carnegie Libraries in Wyoming here.

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