Reason for Designation
“Formed at Brown’s Bridge in November of 1824, the Welland Public Library is perhaps the oldest continuously operating institution in the City of Welland. Shareholders’ names recorded in the earliest preserved minutes include many later memorialized in local street and place names such as Brown, O’Reilly, Page, and Hellems. Among the first books purchased were four volumes of “Clarke’s Travels”. Shareholders paid to join the library and could borrow a book for four weeks (a week longer if they lived more than five miles away) and paid fines of a few pence for offences such as grease spots or torn leaves. For almost two centuries after its founding, the library has continued to grow. It amalgamated with the Mechanic’s Institute Library in 1858 and was housed in numerous locations, including J.H. Burgar’s “Medical Hall” drugstore, Tuckey’s Jewellers, the Rose Block on West Main, and the McCaw Block on East Main. The first librarian was Miss Bertha Hooker, hired in 1867. The library received its first municipal grant for $25.00 from the Town of Welland in 1885.
About 1910 the Town became interested in obtaining a Carnegie Library Grant. Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, on November 25, 1835, the son of William Carnegie, a weaver, and his wife Margaret Morrison. In 1848 the family emigrated to the United States and settled at Pittsburgh. Here Carnegie rose from his first position as bobbin boy in a cotton mill to become the owner of Carnegie Steel and one of the richest men in the world. Called “... the most cruel task master American industry has ever known ...”, he was nevertheless a pioneer of large scale philanthropy. By the time of his death in 1919 he had given away all but $25 million of a fortune well in excess of $250 million. Carnegie and later his charitable foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, went on to build 2811 free public libraries throughout the English speaking world, including six in the Niagara Region.
Welland received the offer of a Carnegie Grant in 1913 but was unable to pass the necessary by-law authorizing taxes for library maintenance. Threatened with the loss of the Grant, City Council finally passed the by-law in February of 1922 and in June of that year approved the purchase of a lot on South Main (now King Street) for $8,000.00 from the James Nixon estate. After the Carnegie Library was completed in 1923, the Welland Public Library continued to expand its services, adding over the years a children’s department, reference and audio visual departments, and Internet access. The Welland Public Library occupied the Carnegie Building until moving to its present location at Welland’s Civic Square in 2005.
Designed by well known local architect Norman Kearns, who was also responsible for the original Welland Market building, the Welland Public Library was constructed in the style of Beaux-Arts Classicism typical of most “Carnegie” libraries. A single story building with exposed basement, it is built of dark red Milton brick with ornamental details in contrasting buff Indiana limestone. These details include prominent corner quoins, window lintels and sills, a string course dividing the basement from the first floor, and classical detailing on the prominent central “frontispiece” or vestibule. This vestibule has a door case (now converted to a window) surmounted by a semi-circular tympanum window and flanked by two monumental stone pilasters whose capitals have volutes in Iconic style with egg and dart decoration. Above these is a wide stone entablature inscribed with the words “Public Library”. Centrally located above the entablature is the City of Welland’s crest, a lion rampant flanked by two ships. Inside, some of the original mahogany trim remains. A wide cornice punctuated by scrolled brackets survives on the main floor along with a portion of dado moulding on the west wall and moulding at the level of the top of the windows. Ceiling mouldings in the basement are also supported by decorative brackets. Despite numerous alterations, including large additions in 1961 and 1974-75, the character of a “Carnegie Library” is still evident in the exterior of the original building.”