Friday, December 21, 2012

A Bit of History – Railroads and Libraries

Time for a little bit of history!  It’s all around us and, with the vast amounts of information available to us via the Internet, anyone with a computer can fill their minds with all kinds of useful information as well as general fluff that is only useful if you’re playing Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit.  Nevertheless, I do like investigating and researching historical facts, even if some of those facts seem trivial to the reader.

So…today my blog is all about a railroad depot and a library...or libraries.
This is the former Louisville and Nashville Railroad Depot in Knoxville Tennessee.  It is an impressive structure.  I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to view the interior of this building as it’s now been transformed into a school, but one can still imagine just how busy this depot must have been in its heyday.

Knoxville’s Louisville and Nashville Railway Depot was built in 1904 – 1905, so it’s about 107 years old!  In 1982, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places based on its architecture and its role in Knoxville’s transportation history.  The building operated as a passenger station until the railroad ceased passenger operations in 1968.  It continued as an office for Louisville and Nashville personnel until 1975.
This very upscale depot was built in order to rival or outshine the nearby Southern Railway Depot.  The designer was the head of Louisville and Nashville's Engineering Department and he was the one mostly responsible for the building’s Victorian and ‘chateauesque’ architectural appearance.
I can see a bit of Dutch influence in the upper façade of this end of the building.  Due to changes in nearby roadways, the building’s ground level now lies about 10 feet below Western Avenue so it’s a little difficult to envision just where and how the rails and passenger trains fit with the structure. 

Louisville and Nashville completely vacated the building in 1975 and it sat empty until it was purchased in 1980.  In 1982, the station was renovated for use in conjunction with Knoxville’s 1982 World's Fair.  It was adjacent to World’s Fair Park.  Two restaurants, a Ruby Tuesday and the first L and N Seafood Grill occupied the first floor of the building while the second floor was converted into meeting rooms to be used in conjunction with the fair.
For a short time, 2002 to 2004, Ye Olde Steakhouse operated out of the station while that restaurant’s original building was being rebuilt after a fire.  In 2010, Knox County Schools announced that they would establish a magnet high school…a ‘STEM’ school teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics…in the old depot.  That school is now fully operational and this beautiful old building has found yet another life…
I like the fact that the old Louisville and Nashville sign has been left up on one corner of the building.  I also like the metal work supporting the roof overhanging what must have been a rail platform or a truck delivery area.

The Louisville and Nashville Railroad was one of the longest operating railroads in the United States.  It was chartered in Kentucky back in 1850.  The company continued in operation until 1982…a 132 year run!  Much of its growth was due to an executive named Milton H. Smith.  He ran the operation for over 35 years.  He’d started out as a telegraph operator and worked his way up.  During the Civil War he was named the Master of Transportation for all railroads in the occupied South.
How many readers have heard of the Carnegie Libraries?  I’m sure that those of us of a certain age are familiar with them, whereas I’m betting that most people that were born after about 1965 haven’t heard about them… This particular Carnegie Library building is in Etowah Tennessee.  As you can see, it’s now being used as Etowah’s City Hall.

Did you know that a total of 2,509 Carnegie Libraries were built between 1883 and 1929!  Some of them belonged to public and university library systems, 1,689 of them were built in the USA, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada and others were constructed in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji.  Serbia?  Strange in that the rest of the countries where libraries were built were at one time or another under the umbrella of the British Empire. (This is something else for me to research!)
This is a photo of Andrew Carnegie… He was born in Scotland in 1835 and he died in Lenox Massachusetts in 1919.  At his wealthiest, in 2007 dollars, Forbes Magazine estimated that he was worth $298,300,000,000 dollars.  Even all of the Walton’s combined can’t hit that number…

The Carnegie family immigrated to the USA when he was 13.  The family was so poor that they had to borrow money to immigrate.  Andrew’s first job was as a factory worker in a bobbin factory.  Later, he became a messenger boy and then a telegraph operator.  He was hired as the secretary and telegraph operator for the head of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company…and then worked his way up to Superintendent of a key segment of that operation.  The president of the railroad helped Carnegie with investments…some of which might land a person in jail today, but which were par for the course in the 1800’s.
During the Civil War, Carnegie was appointed Superintendent of Military Railroads and the Union Government’s telegraph lines in the East. (I wonder if he knew Milton Smith from the Louisville and Nashville Railroad who was concurrently responsible for railroads in the occupied South during the War)
Carnegie invested in oil…and then iron and steel.  Eventually, he put together a ‘little’ company called US Steel.  He made much of his fortune via that company, introducing mass production and the vertical integration of his suppliers of raw materials.  FYI…Vertical integration is measured by the degree by which a company owns its own suppliers and its customers…
As of 1992, 911 of the original Carnegie libraries in the USA were still serving as libraries and another 770 were still standing and were being used for other purposes…such as Etowah’s City Hall.  The first of the Carnegie libraries opened in Dunfermline Scotland in 1883.  The first of his libraries in the USA was opened in Braddock PA in 1888.  It’s interesting to note that 31 of the 39 libraries that comprise the New York City Library System are Carnegie libraries. 

Communities applying for a grant so they could build a library had to meet the requirements of the “Carnegie Formula”.  These requirements were: the town had to match the contribution; they had to demonstrate the need for a public library; they had to provide the building site; they were required to annually provide 10% of the construction cost to support its operation, and; they had to provide free service to all.
Andrew Carnegie basically gave away his entire fortune.  When he died, his last $30,000,000 was given to foundations, charities and pensioners.  His contributions and gifts are tied to many well-known institutions.  These include: Carnegie Mellon University; Hooker Observatory on Mount Wilson; Carnegie Hall in NYC; Carnegie Institution for Science; Tuskegee Institute and the New York University Medical Center.  He was opinionated and controversial too… When the USA paid Spain $20,000,000 for the Philippines, Carnegie offered $20,000,000 to the Filipino people so they could buy back their freedom.
A final note… Carnegie has been quoted as stating that “The life of a wealthy industrialist should comprise two parts…first, the accumulation of wealth and second, distribution of that wealth to benevolent causes.”  This sounds a bit like Warren Buffet's philosophy today...
For more information on the Carnegie Libraries, you can go to  For an interesting summary re: the life of Andrew Carnegie, go to
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for this little adventure in American History!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Hello, new follower here and I’d like to invite you to join me at my weekly
    Clever Chicks Blog Hop:
    I hope you can make it!
    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  2. Well, this post really got my attention! Bill worked for L&N in Louisville, until it merged with Seaboard, now CSX, in Jax, FL. The tall office building was built in the 1800's with the huge L&N logo on top of the building that is still lit up at night overlooking Louisville. Union Station is next door, great architecture. City of L'ville owns it all now. We were to move to Jax (warm winters, no ice, snow) but Bill was offered a RR position in the Chicago Loop. So here we are...

    Carnegie libraries---interesting. The wee little town of Pickerington, Ohio where I grew up on our farm, before Dad was transferred to Louisville, is a Carnegie Library. It was small, in the center of town, and now houses the Pickerington Historical Society.

    Thanks for the great post. Love your research and telling of it all as usual. Merry Christmas to you and yours! May it be the best!!!

  3. Dave, the building is beautiful and I am, alas, very familiar with the libraries. My oldest daughter did her undergraduate work at Carnegie Mellon and they did well by her. I stopped by to wish you and Laurie a Merry Christmas. I hope your holiday contains equal measures of fun, family and food. Hugs and Christmas blessings...Mary