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December 30, 2020 | Caroline Few

The History of the Paducah Carnegie Library

The Paducah Carnegie Library stood between Broadway and Kentucky Ave on 9th Street for over 60 years, from its opening in 1904 through the fire that permanently closed it in December of 1964. 

In 1901, at the request of residents, Andrew Carnegie proposed an investment of $35,000 provided that the donation of a building site and a yearly commitment of $3500 operating cost be provided locally.  

Ground was broken on August 14, 1902 and finally on October 5, 1904, over 2000 people attended the opening reception for the Paducah Carnegie Library. The library began circulating materials two weeks after that from the original collection that contained 1800 books.   

The building was constructed mainly of Bedford stone and buff brick with a terra cotta cornice and roof, with valleys of cooper. The main entrance was on the north end of the Broadway side and led to the main hall, which was home to the circulation desk and main shelving. The building went through numerous changes over the years and survived both the 1913 and 1937 floods.  

On December 30, 1964, faulty wiring from a Christmas tree lighting system caused a fire to erupt in the children’s department on the westside of the lower level of the library. Numerous windows had to be broken, axes were used on walls and floors, the fireman’s high-pressure hoses left standing water in the basement, and over 15,000 books were burned or ruined. With so much damage, the windows and doors were boarded up and the library was closed, never to open again.  

It was ultimately decided that a new library building would be built on a separate site. In June of 1968 Grace Episcopal Church purchased their neighboring property and maintain it still today. On April 21, 197O, demolition of the 66-year-old Carnegie library began. 

In April of 1970, a new 28,000 square foot library was opened to the public at 555 Washington Street, with a collection of 33,000 volumes.  The new library was designed to hold up to 125,000 volumes and name of the library was changed from Paducah Area Public Library, to the Paducah Public Library, and later to the McCracken County Public Library. 

While the building itself is no longer with us, numerous items remain from the Carnegie, including columns that are now housed at 555, along with desks, chairs, and more. The circulation desk is found in the lobby of the Market House Museum and the fountain that once stood in front of the Carnegie was moved to Jefferson Street.