The Library Story
An Alliance of a Young Man and a famous Philanthropist
On August 4, 1903, the cornerstone of the Carnegie Library and Auditorium was laid. A large assembly gathered to witness the impressive ceremonies, attesting to the importance of this event to Newnan. The cornerstone reads: LIBRARY – gift of ANDREW CARNEGIE (left) – founded through the efforts of CHARLES L. THOMPSON(right) – 1903.
Quoting the Herald and Advertiser, August 7, 1903 regarding the remarkable life of Charles Longino Thompson:
…the young man who first conceived the idea that Newnan had climbed high enough up the rugged hill that leads to material prosperity and mental and moral culture to mark her as one of the cities where this philanthropist (Carnegie) could erect one of his buildings, and feel assured that her people would appreciate and sustain it, thus make it a perpetual joy and blessing; —the young man whose unique personality secured this gift, and gave him power to persuade his fellow-citizens that they owed it to themselves and to those who shall come after them to accept it, with its accompanying conditions
Charles Longino Thompson, born June 1, 1880, to prominent, educated parents who lived at the corner of College and West Washington. As a boy he suffered a fall from a tree while trying to see if a bird’s nest had eggs in it. His injuries resulted in his being confined to a “rolling chair” for rest of his life. He was undeterred, always optimistic, highly motivated and competitive in his studies even though he had become to frail to attend college. Perhaps he saw the Carnegie Library in Atlanta, built in 1898, while competing in a debate. On December 12, 1901, he wrote the following letter to Andrew Carnegie:
Our city desires to provide better for the higher life of its people, and we would like very much to interest you in our place.We have read with increasing admiration of your splendid philanthropy and already have in our section several illustrations of its practical results.
Newnan is a city of 6,500 people, an important manufacturing center and a large interior port for cotton. It has numerous municipal improvements, including waterworks, electric lights and an excellent public school system. Any educational institutions here would appeal to the interest of all the surrounding country.
We are very eager to erect a library and auditorium for Chatauqua purposes. The city has an excellent site, well located and wouldsupport them loyally. The Young Men’s library here would turn their 3,000 volumes over to the city and the school library would be added to it, and we could begin with nearly 5,000 volumes.
The auditorium would be used to bring the best lecturers here and the people of four counties would attend the lectures.
Would you be willing to offer the city $10,000 for the building if we agreed to furnish a suitable site and provide 10% of this sum annually for its maintenance? The people in addition would guarantee a sufficient sum to ensure the success of the Chautauqua.
Please let us here from you regarding this plan and precisely what conditions you would require of us.We will furnish all information desired as to effects of such an institution.
Yours sincerely, Chas L. Thompson, Newnan Banking Co.
(and added almost as a P.S. the following:)
I hereby approve above. A R Burdett Mayor City of Newnan, GA
The Library Takes Shape Amidst a Tragedy
Andrew Carnegie agreed to this proposal by letter December 30, 1901. On January 22, 1902 Charles Thompson informed Mr. Carnegie that the Newnan City Council had unanimously agreed to accept his generous offer. But Charles Thompson was never to see his dream of a “free library” realized. He immediately began going door to door in his rolling chair conducting a survey to better know what programs citizens of Newnan wanted their library provide. The cold wet January weather and his fragile health led to his contracting pneumonia. He died on January 30, at age 21, a few days after writing what was to be his last letter to Mr. Carnegie. Charles Thompson’s obituary in The Herald and Advertiser in part states:
” . . .with his love for his fellow-citizens, he set to work with characteristic energy and perseverance to carry this idea (free library) into effect. But the physical strain of this work and the exposure encountered in prosecuting it, proved too much for his frail body, and just as he knew success had crowned his efforts, Death came and took him away. The library, the crystallized result of his labors, will be a source of wonderful good to his native city, and will stand as a memorial to his public- spiritedness and love for his fellow-man. But those who knew him, those familiar with his kindly voice and cheerful face, will need no memorial to remind them of his virtues.We know he must have longed for a more active life than his strength would permit, yet no one ever heard him utter a word of complaint.”
Charles Thompson is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. His tombstone reads: Charles Longino Thompson, only son of B.T. and S.L. Thompson A great mind , a pure heart, a Christian Life On August 22nd of that year, B.T. Thompson wrote Carnegie “The citizens of Newnan have subscribed money for an auditorium to be used exclusively as a Lyceum for educational purposes which they desire to construct as a second story of the library building which your recent generous donation has provided if it shall meet with your approval. Approval was given and on March 10, 1904 a photograph of the completed building was sent by Thompson. In his letter to Carnegie, he included this poignant statement, “You gave this library to Newnan, at the solicitation of my son, Charles L. Thompson. He died within a few weeks after receiving your generous offer. I have tried my best to carry out my son’s plans, and to see that the money should be invested in a suitable and substantial building. I shall continue to exert myself to build up a good library for Newnan.”
Mrs. Andrew (Louise) Carnegie Attends Renovation Ceremony
The library, as did everything else, suffered during the depression years of the 1930s. In the 1940s the library was extensively renovated. In honor of the occasion, Mrs. Andrew Carnegie presented a specially commissioned portrait of her husband by the renowned Scottish artist, John Hunter Young to hang above the fireplace in the reading room. It was as she stated then, the first time she had been personally invited to attend such an event. She was so pleased that she called in one of the family’s favorite artists from Europe to repaint her beloved husband once again – in his much younger day.
In the 1980s the Newnan Carnegie Library closed. A new county library, much larger, very modern, was built a distance from downtown. An institution that had been so close to the hearts of generations changed: the reading areas became a county courtroom, the auditorium became county offices, holding cells and ranks of miscreants filed through daily.
A Grassroots Coalition forms under the Banner “Friends of the Carnegie”
In 2006, an immense Justice Center opened and the court offices were moved out. Once again, the Carnegie Library was empty. A neighborhood group, the Greenville-LaGrange Neighborhood Association saw the opportunity to reclaim the library and formed “Friends of the Carnegie” hoping this venerable institution could be rescued, revitalized and brought into a new century. The coalition grew to include more and more citizens from throughout the city and county with each meeting and a groundswell of support formed for the cause.
“Friends” contacted one of America’s leading library directors, Dr. Shirley Spears, winner of the first National Library Association given for outstanding library service. She took a personal interest in the project and helped formulate a survey using American Library Association guidelines for the Newnan Carnegie Library. The questionnaire was widely distributed by members of Friends of the Carnegie. Results from well over 500 households in every demographic group were compiled, assimilated and tabulated into a Needs Survey presented to the Newnan City Council, published in the Times-Herald and documented on the internet through Glenn Walsh’s site, http://andrewcarnegie.tripod.com. These findings would serve as a template for plans going forward, and in the fall of 2007 the city council and its appointed committee unanimously agreed to fund the return of the Carnegie to library services. Following this announcement, in December of 2007, “Friends of the Carnegie” became a 501(3)-c foundation, The Newnan Carnegie Library Foundation to better serve the needs of the new Carnegie.
A Historical Renovation Architectural Firm is Selected
In early 2008, the architectural firm of Carter-Watkins Associates began the restoration process. According to Ben Carter of the firm, the Carnegie is a shining example of the early Twentieth Century Beaux Arts, Neo-Classical style of architecture. The library displays these features in its symmetry, its high parapet and angled entry façade, its arched windows, large beams and large-scale fireplace mantles centered in grand spaces. High ceilings give the structure and airy, lofty look and feel, and large windows gain an abundance of natural light. Some of the original details of the building included the ““salt and pepper” brick which is unusual for the region, but typical for the Beaux Arts Neoclassical design in order to make the exterior appear stone-like in lieu of brick. The mortar is mono-chromatic which adds to the stone-like effect. The interior wood finish is called “faux-bois”, a French term meaning false wood finish. This was very common in the United States and most prevalent in the South as there were few specimen trees for stained natural wood. This finish has been meticulously restored and gives the library a stately look.
The interior recaptured the original children’s room with its charming fireplace, albeit smaller to accommodate the new elevator. The first floor has a large adult reading room with comfortable seating. The original painting of Andrew Carnegie was returned to its rightful position over the fireplace. The building is completely wi-fi, offers a private study room and computers for the use of patrons. Upstairs the original auditorium returned, with state-of-the-art sound and drop down screens – plus a caterer’s kitchen and art gallery.
An element of particular interest atop the Carnegie is the electric sign stating “Newnan – City of Homes”. The sign dates back to the 1920’s and was installed by the City of Newnan to boast the City’s new era of electricity. The sign is quite unique in that it is constructed of indigo blue colored porcelain on steel panels with decorative Greek borders on each panel. The sign was completely refurbished and restored to its prominent position for the re-opening.
The Newnan Carnegie Library’s Grand Re-Opening
During the Spring of ’09 the Foundation made plans to replicate the week long celebration that marked the first opening of the Carnegie in July, 1904. A week was chosen – and the theme reflected Constitution Week in September and the visionaries of our country and town – including Andrew Carnegie and Newnan’s own Charles Thompson.
During the summer, the city named Amy Mapel as Media Coordinator and later Dianne Oliver joined as her assistant. The interior began to take shape and Amy and Dianne fine-tuned the services the library would offer and began cataloging books and periodicals for the adult and children’s rooms.
An exciting planned opening began to take shape – one that would commemorate the first time in history a Carnegie Library returned to its original purpose after being wholly converted to another use, and the return of Georgia’s now oldest Carnegie to library services. Today the Newnan Carnegie Library welcomes over 1,500 patrons each month to a variety of programs and events – and to browse the honor book selection, get on-line, or to simply enjoy a good “read” on comfortable chairs in quiet spaces.
The Newnan Carnegie Library Today
In 2013, the Carnegie welcomed almost 27,000 patrons (a 20% jump in visitors from 2012) to variety of programs and events, to browse the honor book selection, get “on-line”, enjoy literacy games on Awe systems in the children’s room or just relax with a good “read” on comfortable chairs in quiet spaces.
NCLF plays a vital role in procuring funding and resources to further enhance what the city-owned library can offer on its limited budget. (The Carnegie receives no state funding). Through the support of our members and sponsors we have been able to sustain and offer an outstanding caliber of programming each year tailored to the interests of our community. Every dollar raised goes to programming costs – NCLF does not fund operating costs or salaries.
Our goal: To open new worlds for all ages and interests:
• History: ancient, U.S., WWI & II, European, Georgian
• Theatre: live performances/musicals
• World Dance
• White gloves discoveries: rare documents and artifacts
• Astronomy with Georgia Tech
• Spanish summer classes for children
• Stem programs
• Great Literature: CS Lewis/J.R.R. Tolkien series
• Distinguished Author readings and lectures
• Cooking schools
• GPB Previews: Downtown Abbey in historical context
• Multi-language immersion – preschool-middle school
• Manners and etiquette for children
• Auburn University annual fall lecture series
We invite you to join our membership and become a part of re-imagining the exciting, relevant role of library services today!