Northeast Corner of Broadway and Line Street
The Library Committee of City Council, on February 24th, adopted a resolution presented by Councilman Charles H. Ellis, formally accepting Andrew Carnegie’s offer of $100,000 for a public library in Camden. On April 28, 1903 the Free Library Trustees recommended the purchase of the Dialogue property, at Broadway and Line Street, 80 x 1600 feet, for the new Carnegie Library. The sum asked was $15,0900 and on November 4, 1903 the property was obtained for that sum.
A competition for the design of the new library was held, with several local architects, including Arthur Truscott, submitting designs. Coming in first place in this contest was the firm of Hale & Morse. Hale and Morse represented the partnership of architects ordinarily not associated with Philadelphia: Herbert D. Hale and Henry G. Morse, both of whom were better known in Boston and New York. Nonetheless, for a period in the early twentieth century the firm established an office in the Drexel Building in Philadelphia, and their projects, reported by the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide included several residential operations.
Camden Free Library Building, built with money donated by Andrew Carnegie, Broadway and Line Street, opened to the public on June 27, 1905. 7,000 books were on the shelves. The cost of the building was about $86,000. Carnegie’s donation eventually came to $120,000. It was Carnegie’s belief that universities and libraries were the most worthwhile areas to give donations, and he made major donations to over 2500 libraries across the country. The firm of J.E. and A.L Pennock built the two-storied, neoclassical library. It was finished with a pedimented entrance portico on the west facade. When there were no funds left to purchase furniture for the library, Andrew Carnegie donated a supplementary $20,000. The was housed at its original site for eighty-one years. In 1986, the library was set up in a larger building, leaving the original Camden Free Public Library empty. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in October of 1992, and still stands as a symbol of the City of Camden as well as a symbol of the generosity of Andrew Carnegie.
Sadly in the years between 1986 and 2004 the Carnegie Library stood as a symbol of much that was wrong with Camden – physical decay, political inertia, and an indifference to both the heritage of the past and the need to instill a love of books and learning in Camden’s children. A few interested parties attempted to get government help in preserving the building, but met with little success.
Happily, the new wind that began to blow through Camden in 2003 brought wonderful news on March 20, 2004, when the Camden Redevelopment Agency announced that funds had been set side for the preservation and restoration of the Carnegie Library.