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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh—South Side

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh South Side

"When our teacher was a little girl, she used to go to the library to do her homework. The librarians would help her with her book reports. Another one of our teachers used to go to the library to read books because her family didn't have any books at home.” —student quote

2205 East Carson Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15203

Date and Style
Built in 1909
—Classical style

Although modest in scale, the Classical building has a clean, elegant look. Notice the parapet that rises above the entablature, the part of the building that is carried by the columns. The columns are actually called pilasters, because they are flattened columns that are really part of the wall. The pilaster is terminated by a stone capital, just like a column would be.
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Facts and Stories Worth Knowing
  • Before the library was built, the land was owned by Edward Yard, a descendent of John Ormsby, the founder or “father” of the South Side.
  • The South Side branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was among the first branch libraries in the Pittsburgh library system. The two-story, red-brick building was designed in 1909 by Alden & Harlow, Pittsburgh's leading architectural firm at the time.
  • Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), for whom the library is named, was one of Pittsburgh's most famous citizens. Born in Scotland, Carnegie came to the United States at the age of 13 and settled in Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh's North Side). He was poor and had little formal education, but was an enterprising young man and natural entrepreneur. He first worked as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill, then in a telegraph office, and then for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Recognizing the growing importance of iron and steel, Carnegie formed the Keystone Bridge Company in 1863, and the Pittsburgh Locomotive Works and the Union Iron Mills in 1866. He bought out the Homestead Steel Works and by 1888 controlled several steel plants at Homestead, Duquesne, and Braddock. In 1899 Carnegie consolidated his business holdings into the Carnegie Steel Company, which he sold in 1901 to create the United States Steel Company, the nation's first billion-dollar business. He retired at the age of 65, and devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy, donating more than $350 million to various causes. Between 1881 and 1911, he personally donated funds for the construction of 2,509 libraries in the English-speaking world. “To this day, Carnegie's free-to-the-people libraries remain Pittsburgh's most significant cultural export,” writes Patricia Lowry of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Carnegie funded the construction of libraries in working-class communities so people would have the chance to read, to learn, and to improve their lives through education. In doing so, Carnegie was paying tribute to Colonel James Anderson of Allegheny City, who had opened his private library to Carnegie when he was a teenager and had encouraged him to acquire an education.


  • The South Side branch was stocked with books in all sorts of foreign languages, since so many people in the community were immigrants.
  • The South Side branch was the first home of the Helen Keller Book Clubs in the 1920s, which rewarded children for reading and giving oral reports. The Children's Room was specially designed with books, tables, and charts appropriate for children.
  • During World War II the library was used as an air raid shelter. You can still see the air raid sign on the outside of the building.
  • Teenagers used to hang out in the library in the evening. The library would close at 6:00 pm so the librarians could eat dinner, but then they would re-open the library at 7:00 pm so young adults could gather there.
  • The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation awarded a Historic Landmark plaque to the library in 1990, because of its architectural and historical significance.
  • To learn more about an educational program that the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation offers in the library, go to South Side History & Architecture Days.
  • In 2010, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh announced plans to renovate this historic branch library. Loysen + Kreuthmeier Architects are drawing up plans with input from the community. Renovations will be completed in 2012.

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