[original and present Carnegie Museum and Library]
Original Carnegie Library building

This 1893 Romanesque Revival structure is one of Fairfield's most significant buildings.  It represents a turning point in the future of public libraries in the United States and is one of Iowa's treasures.

Did you know this is the ... First Carnegie library:
- west of Mississippi River,
- in Iowa.



[Andrew Carnegie portrait]
Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist, funded his first library building in 1881, in his hometown of Dunfermline, Scotland.  Carnegie's later gifts greatly enriched the civic life of Dunfermline: parks, a concert hall, a golf course, and art museum, a medical clinic, and a vocational school, supplemented with a trust of $4 million (about $80 million today) for a community of twenty-seven thousand.

Andrew Carnegie continued his interest in libraries, but only in his industrial area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Several towns around the area received funding for libraries from Carnegie, but together they represent but a prelude to Carnegie's gift-giving.

Fairfield and Andrew Carnegie then came together.

To quote from the excellent book Carnegie Libraries Across America by Theodore Jones - "after decades of meditation and a few false starts, the true foundation of Carnegie's public library philanthropy occurred on December 28, 1891, when Senator James Wilson of [Fairfield] Iowa boarded a train from Washington, D.C., to New York City; specifically to ask Carnegie for funds to construct a library building in his hometown of Fairfield.  Carnegie met with the senator over dinner at his home.  The next morning, Wilson wired Fairfield with the news that he had secured Carnegie's promise for $40,000 for a library building ... marking the first time Carnegie funded a library in a town where he had no personal ties or investment - no manufacturing plants, no family, no disaster.  Wilson's request was a first, too; Carnegie had never been directly asked to provide library building funds."

Dedicated in November 1893, the Carnegie Library of Fairfield became one of the most important components of community life.  

Over the next one hundred years, many of the Carnegie-endowed structures across America have been lost to the ravages of time and the elements.  Community development has often led to changes in the original structures, sometimes at great costs.

Fairfield in the '90's, too, faced the difficulties of meeting structural needs of the original building with the needs of the community looking square into the 21st century.  Options were discussed and weighed by community leaders and the Library Board; in the end a referendum was passed by the community to fund the building of a new Fairfield Public Library, to be located but a few blocks from the Carnegie structure.

Dedicated in 1996, the new library provides more than twice the previous space, and is technologically adaptable for the 21st century needs of the Fairfield community.

The Carnegie structure was later turned over to (Ottumwa) Indian Hills Community College.  The facility now serves as their Jefferson County Service Center, providing continuing education classes and Iowa fiber-optic connections with classrooms and centers throughout Iowa and the nation.

It remains, though, at the center of Fairfield's historical and cultural life.  Historical items are on display in a museum on the third floor, and the Fairfield Art Association is provided with space.  

Fairfield has great pride in the Carnegie Library and intends to maintain the structure for generations to follow.


Designed in the Henry Hobson Richardson/Romanesque style of the 1870/80's, the Fairfield library building traits include prominent round arches over windows and entryways; roughly textured stone treatments; bands of windows; contrasting-color stone; short columns; eyebrow dormers; and organic floral stone carving.  This style was utilized for the earliest of the Carnegie libraries.


[originally known as Jefferson County Library, inscription of front of Carnegie Building]

originally known as
"Jefferson County Library"

"Erected by Andrew Carnegie"
Inscription above front doors

[ornamentation on front of Carnegie Library building]
1853 signifies the establishment of the first library system in Fairfield, and in Iowa, for that matter

Building of this Carnegie structure
began in the early 1890's and was completed in 1892


Sen. James Wilson:


Senator James F. Wilson of Fairfield was responsible for persuading Andrew Carnegie to provide the funds for the establishment of what would be later known as Fairfield's "Carnegie Library".

Sen. Wilson is buried in the original Fairfield City Cemetery, along with other members of his family.


[Wilson Building in Fairfield, est. 1876]
Building owned by Sen. Wilson, established 1876

[Wilson family name on monument]
Wilson name on family
monument in cemetery

[James Wilson death date]
James F. Wilson,
died April 22, 1895 (66 yrs.)
[James Wilson burial site in Evergreen Cemetery, Fairfield, Iowa]
Burial site,
Fairfield City Cemetery


Also: Did you know that Fairfield was home to another Carnegie structure?  Provided by Andrew Carnegie in the early 1900's, Carnegie Hall served several purposes over the years on the Parsons College and Maharishi University of Managment campus.  

The structure was razed in July 2000.

carnegiecampusbldg.jpg (11786 bytes)  carnegiebackcampus.jpg (11447 bytes)  carnegieMIUsign.jpg (11182 bytes)

see also Fairfield Public Library (new) on this website.

For further information about Carnegie libraries, try 
Carnegie Libraries across America: a public legacy by 
Theodore Jones, c. 1997 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Also,
search on the Internet for Andrew Carnegie.