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Fall of Galesburg Carnegie Library

By Emily DuGranrut

Published August 26, 2021 in The Burg

Last month, we learned about the rise of Galesburg’s Carnegie Library — but this month, in our

penultimate installment of our library history series, we will learn about its fall.

Known as one of the worst and most destructive fires in Galesburg’s history, the fire began at 7:30 p.m. on May 9, 1958, when an exhaust fan caught fire in the building’s attic. Librarians and patrons who were in the building at the time were alerted of the smoke by a person walking by and quickly evacuated the building. Despite attempts by the Galesburg Fire Department, the fire raged on through the night. Lack of water pressure and manpower allowed the fire to move through the building to the second, then first floors.

Thousands watched as the fire slowly but surely destroyed the beloved library. According to the

Galesburg Register-Mail, the light from the flames could be seen “as far away as Knoxville.”

The fire was put out by noon the next day, but the damage was done. Furniture, archival materials, and more than 200,000 books went up in smoke. A temporary library was established at 39 N. Cherry Street until a decision could be made on how to proceed. Some wanted the

Carnegie Library to be rebuilt in its original form, while others believed a new, more modern library should replace it. Eventually, the decision was made to demolish the building and start fresh. In September 1961, the new library opened, and is part of the building the library is in today.

Next month, we’ll talk about this new “modern” library, its expansions and limitations, and our

vision for the future.

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