JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Shutterbug on trail of lost libraries

SOME PEOPLE TRAMP through the cedars of the rain forest, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive Bigfoot.

Others go up in helicopters to chase tornadoes, wanting to capture the storm’s fury.

Lewis Stock hunts a more elusive prey.

For the past two years, Stock has been on the trail of the lost Carnegie libraries of Washington.

His goal: to capture with his trusty Nikon the images of every library building built with Carnegie funds.

The main obstacle?

“Only 15 are still in active use as libraries,” he said. “The great majority are in private hands.”

Retired from IBM, Stock got interested in Carnegie libraries when he volunteered at the Port Townsend Library a few years ago.

Built in 1913, it is one of 2,500 libraries that 19th century industrialist Andrew Carnegie provided communities with funds to build.

Starting with the Seattle main library, 43 Carnegie libraries were built in the state between 1901 and 1916, Stock said.

Of those, 10 have been demolished, and of the 33 still standing, more than half are used for other purposes.

Compounding the problem: all Carnegie libraries were not created equal.

“They range from grand to simple,” Stock said, “but after a while, you start to recognize the details.”

For example, the Fremont Branch Library in Seattle is a low, Spanish-style building, while main libraries in larger cities tend to be large, ornate buildings, Stock said.

The Port Townsend Library is in between, being two-stories, of medium size and having some vaguely Spanish details.

“There are four or five styles,” Stock said, and, again, “After a while, you come to recognize the details.”

But many of the larger versions, like the main libraries in Seattle and Bellingham, have been demolished.

“It started with seeing how many were still standing,” he said.

Tracking down all the libraries, including those that had undergone makeovers, became his quest.

Even the Washington State Historical Society didn’t have a complete list.

“It had holes and duplicates SEmD libraries that were on the list twice under different names,” he said. “It was very difficult to find the information.”

But once he had the number and locations, he and spouse Marta Stock hit the road.

Sometimes they made it a day trip, she said, driving up to Bellingham for lunch, then making a loop to hit as many Carnegies as possible.

In Bellingham, they visited the Fairhaven branch, the only one that remains in service.

But in Sedro-Wooley, all they found were people who had memories of the Carnegie library, which was torn down to build a school.

“It’s under the floor of the high school gymnasium now,” Lewis said.

They also ventured over the mountains in the fall, making a big loop through Eastern Washington.

In Spokane, they found all four Carnegie libraries living under assumed identities as offices for lawyers and architects.

In Prosser, they expected to find the Carnegie building still in existence but learned that it had been torn down.

Talking to someone at the Chamber of Commerce, Lewis learned that people there, as in other community that had a Carnegie library, didn’t appreciate it until it was gone.

“They realize they’ve lost something,” Stock said.

The most challenging Carnegie library to photograph was the one in Snohomish, he said, which is still in use. But it hardly looked like a Carnegie, having been connected to other buildings with a modern entry added.

The Stocks prefer to photograph their subjects on Sundays, when there aren’t a lot of cars in view, but the Snohomish Library had a church next door that was in service. And the weather didn’t cooperate.

“It was foggy and rainy,” Stock said.

The couple also discovered library buildings that had been converted to unconventional uses but were beautifully maintained.

In Auburn, the Carnegie library is now a school of dance. Olympia’s Carnegie was converted into a fundamentalist church, and the Ballard branch in Seattle is a French restaurant.

In Burlington, the building is the Child Protective Services office, and in Clarkston, a high school counseling center.

In Walla Walla, the Carnegie Library was converted into an arts center, Stock said.

“It was done with creativity, leaving the building intact,” he said.

Carnegies in Everett and Wentachee were pressed into civil service as city or county offices.

All were photographed by Stock, and are now on display at the Port Townsend Library.

“This may be the only complete set of photos of Carnegie libraries in Washington state,” Stock said.

The couple’s personal favorite: the Columbia branch of the Seattle Library.

Located in the south part of the city on Rainier Avenue, it was built on the corner of a park. The building has been enlarged, but the addition was done with sensitivity, not just tacked on, Stock said.

In Port Angeles, as well as in Anacortes, Edmonds, Vancouver and Pasco, the buildings live on as historical museums.

Gone forever are Carnegie libraries in Aberdeen, Chehalis, Ellensburg, Puyallup, Renton and Yakima, as well as the one in Prosser and the main libraries in Seattle and Bellingham.

But Stock managed to find photographs of those buildings, which are also on display at the Port Townsend Library. He also corresponded with the Clark County Historical Society, which launched a “Mr. Carnegie’s Grand Tour of Washington” last year to encourage people to visit the buildings.

Back home, the Stocks believe that having a Carnegie library helps to make it a focal point in town and draw people’s attention. They both volunteer there, and in the summer, find themselves at the library almost every day when grandchildren are visiting.

“We come for the computers, the games and the activities,” Marta Stock said.

Like its sisters throughout the state, the local library is a tribute to the man, Stock said, whose legacy lives on.


Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.

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