PG News
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Home Page
PG News: Nation and World, Region and
State, Neighborhoods, Business, Sports, Health and Science, Magazine,
Special Reports: Post-Gazette reports on
national, international and regional news and issues
News Links: PG news topics and
related links
Photo Journal: Post-Gazette photos
AP Wire: News and sports from the
Associated Press
Sports: Headlines, Steelers, Pirates,
Penguins, Collegiate, Scholastic
Classifieds: Jobs, Real Estate,
Automotive and other Post-Gazette Classifieds A Fast Way to Buy a Car
Weather: AccuWeather Forecast,
Conditions, National Weather, Almanac
Magazine: Features, Arts, Food, TV,
Gardening, Dining, Books, Pets, Lottery, Horoscopes, Crossword
City Guide: Links and local
PG Store: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PG Delivery: Home Delivery, Back Copies,
Mail Subscriptions
Headlines Region & State Neighborhoods Business
Sports Health &
Science Magazine Forum

Trustees grapple with what Carnegie wanted

Tuesday, June 06, 2000

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Industrialist Andrew Carnegie endowed public libraries in Carnegie, Braddock, Munhall, Duquesne and Dunfermline, Scotland. A story in yesterday’s editions about the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie gave the list of libraries incorrectly.

Industrialist Andrew Carnegie died in 1919, but since then, he has been directing the operations of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie from the grave.

In 1899, Carnegie prepared a document saying that it was his "expressed wish" that the library always be free to the people and run by a 17-member board of trustees.

Until now, the trustees honored his wishes, even though the large board was unwieldy.

"We have been unable to get a quorum at about 75 percent of the meetings," said Shawn Wright, attorney for a group of trustees.

When trustees began to try to raise $5 million to make renovations to the gigantic library, they were told by foundations that their board needed to reduce its size, eliminate its life trustee positions and model itself after boards in the Pennsylvania State Library Association.

So board members decided to try to get changes made in the terms under which they operated. But when they began the process, the paper trail took a bizarre little twist: The agreement that had hamstrung them over the years never was filed in the Allegheny County courts.

At least, no one can find any record of it.

So they went to court last month to get it validated, and today they'll go back to get it changed.

The trustees will appear before Allegheny County Orphan's Court Judge Walter R. Little today and ask him to set aside Carnegie's wishes and modify the trust agreement that Carnegie drew up.

Instead of a 17-member board, they want an even dozen, with no lifetime members.

"If he would have left us some money to do it, we would have followed his rules," said Carnegie Mayor Bob Heinrich, an ex-officio member of the library board.

"There is no money to fix up the building. We cannot let it deteriorate. It is too important to the community," he said.

The heating and air conditioning systems are top priorities. In March, the boiler failed and the library had to close until it was repaired.

If Little grants the request, Glenn A. Walsh of Mt. Lebanon, a lifetime trustee, will resign. Walsh, who is historian of the library, doesn't want to discuss his decision, but it is clearly related to his reluctance to see Carnegie's wishes revoked.

Today's hearing will be Little's second encounter with the writings of Andrew Carnegie. He also heard the board's motion regarding the library last month after its discovery that Carnegie's "declaration of trust" -- the document that has been controlling the library's operations all these years -- never was recorded as a legal document in the Allegheny County courts.

"It was referred to in some public documents, but it was not a matter of public record," said Allen Turske of Carnegie, a member of the library advisory group.

"The original document was missing," said Wright, who sent some trustees to Mellon Bank, where they had a lock drilled off a safe deposit box, looking for a signed original.

"They couldn't find it," he said.

To remedy that problem, the trustees went to Little with a motion asking him to record a copy of the declaration of the trust, dated in New York on April 20, 1899. The document carried the typewritten name of Andrew Carnegie but wasn't signed.

At their request, Little waived a local rule of the court that required that unacknowledged instruments of trusts must be recorded on the basis of proof of a signature.

Little accepted an affidavit from Elizabeth B. Martin, president of the board of trustees, who said she had conducted "a diligent search for the original declaration of trust of Andrew Carnegie" and failed to find one.

The judge did not hold a hearing on the request or demand proof of the veracity of the document. Instead, he allowed the trust to be recorded May 12 -- 101 years after it was prepared.

A century ago, Carnegie was so pleased that the borough of Carnegie named itself after him that he endowed the community with its own Andrew Carnegie Free Library, even though he didn't operate any steel mills there.

The library, a massive, turn-of-the-century brick structure sitting high on Beechwood Avenue, surrounded by giant maple trees, was among five libraries that Carnegie endowed, and the only one that he allowed to use both his first and last names, said Walsh as he walked through the building one day last week.

The others were in Braddock, Munhall, Duquesne and Dunfermline, Scotland. The Duquesne library has been torn down.

Walsh said Carnegie donated $244,000 to purchase the property in Carnegie and construct a building to house a free library, a music hall, a lecture hall and a gymnasium.

The grant also included an additional $10,000 for the purchase of the library's first supply of books.

Today, the library contains 32,000 cataloged items and is used by residents from Carnegie and adjoining communities. Carnegie's portrait hangs over a mantel and many of the book shelves are originals.

The music hall, which has 788 seats in use, is so acoustically perfect that recording artists sometimes rent it to record compact discs, Walsh said. It hosts plays by Stage 62, a local theater group; the Pittsburgh Savoyards, who perform Gilbert and Sullivan productions; and several other groups.

The seats are the originals, which still have wire hooks under them where "gentlemen could put their top hats," Walsh said.

"We do get complaints, since there are no cushions," he said.

The 120-seat lecture hall has the original seats from the old Grand Theater in Carnegie. Walsh said it was built for Carnegie council but now is used for lectures and rented to a church on Sundays.

A dance studio rents the gymnasium in the basement, and one room on the second floor is reserved as a Civil War museum that contains battle flags, rifles, photographs and letters collected by local war veterans who began meeting there in 1906. Walsh said the room is open to the public from 6 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday.

The library is stately and historically significant, but it has never been renovated.

"That is both its strength and its weakness," said Turske, who also is executive director of the Chartiers Valley Partnership, a nonprofit organization that is trying to pull together resources to restore the library to its former grand state.

He said the infrastructure, heating, air conditioning and electrical systems are top priorities "because of what dampness and cold can do to a building."

navigation bar
Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 PG Publishing. All rights reserved.
Click here for Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.