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Bemidji Carnegie Library

Beltrami County Historical Society
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Bemidji Carnegie Library

Bemidji Carnegie Library (426 Bemidji Avenue, Bemidji). Posted by Wikimedia Commons user McGhiever, September 24, 2013. CC BYA-SA 3.0.

For five decades, Bemidji’s public library operated in a one-story, brick-and-stone neo-classical structure designed by Haxby & Gillespie and built in 1909. It is a well-preserved example of the libraries throughout Minnesota—and the United States—that were financed by Andrew Carnegie.

The first Bemidji library was housed in the city’s old courthouse. After a new courthouse was constructed in 1902, the library was moved to the lower level of that building. The Bemidji Public Library Association was formed in 1904.

After three years of fundraising, the Bemidji Public Library was established on February 25, 1907. In 1908, Bemidji Library Board Chairman A. P. Ritchie wrote to Andrew Carnegie to inquire about the possibility of funding for a new library building. On March 23, 1908, the city council commenced proceedings to vacate Fifth Street east of Bemidji Avenue to make room for a construction site.

The library’s original design included porches on either side of the building, overlooking the lake. The board and the architects intended for these porches to be used in the evening, when the sun shines into the building from the west. Carnegie, however, thought they were unnecessary, and the porches were dropped from the plans, lowering the cost of the building to within the amount of Mr. Carnegie’s donation of $12,500.

Thomas Johnson of Bemidji was the construction project’s lowest bidder and was awarded the contract for the sum of $11,300 on August 7, 1909. The building was to be completed by January 1, 1910. Johnson completed the work on time, and the building was occupied during the winter and dedicated the following June.

The building is located on the banks of Lake Bemidji in Library Park, on a fifty-foot-by-sixty-foot lot of Block B. It is a typical one-story, rectangular, brick-and-stone library structure, Neo-classical in style. The exterior is made of brown brick with Bedford limestone trim. It is covered with a low hipped roof and is set upon a high (five feet above grade) basement. The basement is the full size of the building.
Inside, a stone staircase led to the library’s main-floor circulation desk (in the building’s center, under a low dome) and two reading rooms; book stacks and stock rooms offered storage and work space behind it. varnished oak woodwork provided decoration throughout the elegant main floor.

Although the porches the architects designed were never built, doors were installed on the library’s eastern (lakeside) façade, perhaps to allow for the future construction of reading porches. While an appropriation was never made for such an addition, it remained feasible.

Work crews thoroughly remodeled the building in 1940. The story of the remodeling, complete with pictures, made the pages of the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. City improvement projects in the 1950s widened Bemidji Avenue in front of the library, increasing traffic and making it more hazardous to cross the street.

The building stopped operating as a library on November 28, 1961, when the Bemidji Public Library moved into a larger building. It was recognized as a historic property and placed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 25, 1980. The Beltrami County Welfare Board occupied the space for a time, and the Bemidji Arts Council installed an art gallery inside it in 1983.

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Bemidji Public Library. National Register of Historic Places nomination file, June 17, 1988. Reference number 80001936.
Editor’s note: The article contains excerpts of this public-domain text.

Bonham, Kevin. “Fundraising Kicks Off with 10K Donation.” Bemidji Pioneer, April 26, 2012.

——— . “Preserving Carnegie’s Legacy.” Bemidji Pioneer, May 13, 2012.

“Carnegie Library Accepted by City.” Bemidji Daily Pioneer, May 12, 1910.

City of Bemidji. History of the Carnegie Library Building.

Hageman, John. “Committee Making Quiet Progress in Carnegie Fundraising.” Bemidji Pioneer, September 6, 2012.

——— . “Save the Carnegie Committee Updates Council.” Bemidji Pioneer, August 20, 2013.

Heiring, Drew. “Bemidji Carnegie Library.” Minnesota Preservationist 3, 2013.,%202013.pdf

Kayser, Zack. “City Approves Dig Findings.” Bemidji Pioneer, October 8, 2013.

McKeig, Cecelia Wattles. “Carnegie Library.” In Bemidji: A Snapshot of Bemidji, 7–8. Brainerd, MN: Cecelia McKeig, 2010.

——— . Images of America: Bemidji. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Printing, 2013.

Minnesota Historical Society and the City of Bemidji. “The Bemidji Carnegie Library: Reuse Study,” August 2008.

Minnesota Historical Society and the City of Bemidji. “The Bemidji Carnegie Library: Reuse Study,” May 11, 2009.

Miron, Molly. Carnegie Library Study Looks at Reuse.” Bemidji Pioneer, September 13, 2008.

Reinan, John. “Bemidji’s Library Lovers Ready to Bring Historic Carnegie Library Back to Life.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 23, 2018.

Ritchie, A. P. A Short History of the Erection and Establishment of our Bemidji Public Library Building. [Bemidji, MN]: [A. P. Ritchie], 1940. Archives, Beltrami County Historical Society, Bemidji.

Swenson, Laurie. “Carnegie Concern.” Bemidji Pioneer, September 29, 2011.

Wesley, Bethany. “Council Stands Pat, 4-3 Vote Leave C Building on the Chopping Block.” Bemidji Pioneer, January 18, 2012.

——— . “Carnegie Spared, Supporters Allowed Time to Raise Funds to Preserve Bemidji’s Historic Library.” Bemidji Pioneer, March 20, 2012.

——— . “Carnegie Must Be Moved.” Bemidji Pioneer, June 8, 2012.

——— . “Landmark Question.” Bemidji Pioneer, June 20, 2012.

Williams, Anne. “More Ideas for Carnegie.” Bemidji Pioneer, October 11, 2011.

Related Images

Bemidji Carnegie Library
Bemidji Carnegie Library
Bemidji Carnegie Library
Bemidji Carnegie Library

Turning Point

The building stops operating as a library on November 28, 1961.



The Bemidji Ladies Library Society begins to collect books for a local library.


A. P. Ritchie proposes to the Bemidji City Council that it seek funding for a library construction project from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.


In the spring, Ritchie writes to Carnegie and secures his financial support; W. A. Gould selects a site for the building.


On May 23, the Bemidji City Council begins proceedings to vacate Fifth Street East to make room for a construction site.


The city council awards a construction contract to Thomas Johnson on August 7.


On May 11, the library board formally accepts the Carnegie Library.


The building is formally dedicated in June.


The building receives a thorough remodeling.


The library closes on November 28.


The library is added to the National Register of Historic Places.


The Bemidji Community Arts Council begins to use the library and installs an art gallery inside.