Listen: How Superior became home to Wisconsin's first and last Carnegie libraries
Archive Dive is a monthly podcast hosted by reporter Maria Lockwood. Episodes dip into the archives of historic events, people and places in Superior and Douglas County with local historians.
For 120 years, the Carnegie Library has stood on the corner of Hammond Avenue. The Superior City Council voted in July to purchase the time-worn building to repair it to a viable state. It was the first of 63 libraries to be built in Wisconsin with funding from industrialist Andrew Carnegie. The structure opened in 1902 and served the public until 1992 when the current library was opened. Since then, the vacant building has been the focus of big dreams, but none of them have panned out.
In this month’s episode of Archive Dive, local historian and retired librarian Teddie Meronek joins the Superior Telegram’s Maria Lockwood to take us on a trip through the building’s history, and discuss its importance to the people of Superior.
“It has meant so much to so many people over the years,” says Meronek. “Superior had its first library association in 1869 and we are a city that always prized libraries and what they could provide everybody in town.”
The Library was built in 1901 and opened in 1902 at a time when Superior’s population was approximately 30,000 people. Just three employees were on staff when the three-story sandstone library on Hammond Avenue opened its doors. The main floor featured chandeliers and nice furniture and the majority of the attractions, such as the children’s room. The public meeting rooms were located in the basement and the board room and art room were located upstairs. A mezzanine was added in the 1930s to help with space issues.
“They ran out of room almost immediately.”
Before the Hammond Avenue location added the mezzanine, Superior added another Carnegie library, as they received $20,000 in 1917 to build the one-story brick East End Branch on East Fifth Street.
Meronek grew up visiting both locations and would eventually go on to work at both sites, calling her career a “dream job.” Both locations closed their doors at the end of 1991, making way for the current Superior Public Library building on Tower Avenue. The East End branch was turned into a private residence, but the library on Hammond sits empty. Meronek has also been involved in historical preservation and hopes the building is part of Superior’s future.
“I said this at the city council meeting, not every old building can be saved, nor should it be saved, but this one needs to be saved. We have the first Carnegie library in Wisconsin. There are other cities that would kill to have a Carnegie library, we have two of them, the first and the last, and I think that we owe that building, just for the fact that it survived 120 years and has been mishandled and abused for the last 30 years of it, we owe it to that library to do what we can to save it.”
New episodes of Archive Dive are published monthly. Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts. Episodes are edited and produced by Duluth News Tribune digital producers Wyatt Buckner and Dan Williamson. If you have an idea for a topic you’d like to see covered, email Maria Lockwood at email@example.com .