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Carnegie Library is testament to a past worth remembering

An exciting two years lie ahead as the citizens of Bemidji join together to revitalize our historic Carnegie Library building that has stood on the shore of Lake Bemidji since 1910 as a monument to our founders’ commitment to public betterment.

My involvement in this endeavor stems from my youth in a truly historic city and my profession as an archaeologist. I grew up in Cambridge, Mass., settled by Puritans in 1630. We kids played sandlot baseball on Cambridge Common where George Washington took command of the Continental Army at the start of the Revolutionary War. Within sight of the common stands Massachusetts Hall, erected between 1718 and 1720 and the oldest remaining building of Harvard University. Built as a dormitory, today it holds the offices of the university president and other senior officers but freshmen still reside on the top floor. Obviously, I was surrounded by history and that hall is my favorite example of preservation and reuse.

As an archaeologist, I may suffer from the professional hazard of romanticizing the past. It is true, however, that “the past forms the present and knowledge of the past informs the present.” The history of our Carnegie Library building certainly informs us of the past. On the national level, it stands for steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s commitment to public edification through funding construction of libraries across the country and is the first Carnegie “on the Mississippi.” Locally, it commemorates the efforts, beginning in 1903, of the Bemidji Ladies Public Library Association to collect books and the City Council’s foresight in providing land for its construction.

I believe strongly that public buildings are living monuments to the civic commitment of those who built them and that each generation’s efforts to maintain them carry the community’s “sense of self” from the past into the future. If we do not preserve such structures, we do not “have” a history in a “concrete” or still-standing sense of that term. I hope you share my enthusiasm in preserving this wonderful building.

You can follow our progress in the pages of the Pioneer and on and on our website, You can make a much-needed and greatly appreciated tax-deductible donation to a fund, dedicated exclusively to the building’s preservation, by sending a check, payable to the City of Bemidji, to “Save the Bemidji Carnegie Library,” 317 4th St. NW, Bemidji, MN, 56601 or donate on our website.