It's hard to imagine a world without free access to the unlimited knowledge offered by public libraries. But at the beginning of the twentieth century, this was not the reality but rather an audacious dream of the steel tycoon turned philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Before Carnegie started his grant program to build libraries across the United States, easy access to books was largely restricted to those with enough money for a private collection or access to subscription services. People in different towns from across Nebraska saw free access to books as an opportunity to make a lasting impact in their communities, so they set to work applying for grants to build Carnegie libraries. Of the 1,689 public libraries in the United States, 69 were in Nebraska. Towns who applied were responsible for providing the land, purchasing all the books, and providing salaries for librarians. Women, especially ladies' clubs, were often the driving force behind raising the necessary funds to match Carnegie's grant. To bring the whole community together, they found creative ways to raise money through events like box socials (box lunches would be auctioned off).
History Nebraska has been working hard to get as many of these Carnegies listed on the National Register as possible. Today these buildings are not always suitable for continued use as libraries, but that does not mean that these treasures should be torn down. As we have traveled the state to see old Carnegies, we have been impressed by the creative new uses that communities have found for these buildings. It was a community-effort this construct these buildings, and it often takes a community effort to save them.
Downtown Neligh is experiencing a revival—old buildings in a state of disrepair are fixed-up, and small businesses move in. This unusual home is right in the thick of all this renewed energy and focus. Fortunately, the building captured a local resident's imagination, who saw the potential for a unique residential home.