Written by Southeast Missouri State University Student Guest Blogger Laura Williams
This blog series is presented through a partnership between the Historic Preservation Commission of Cape Girardeau, the Historic Preservation Program at Southeast Missouri State University, and Old Town Cape.
When Cape Girardeau County residents visit the Tax Assessors Office, located behind the Court of Common Pleas at 44 N. Lorimier St., they probably do not realize they are also visiting the original Cape Girardeau Carnegie Library. In 1914, shortly after the City opened its first public library in the Ellingood Building on the corner of Spanish and Themis, new conversations began about how to best fund and construct a bigger and more accessible building that would be able to accommodate the needs of the quickly growing town. Ideas became more substantial plans in 1916 when the Women’s Council of Clubs was the recipient of a $20,000 construction pledge from the Carnegie group for a new library building. After WWI temporarily interrupted progress, the Women’s Council was able to retake the torch, and in 1921 the Carnegie Corporation reaffirmed its financial support for the project through a $25,000 donation, with the stipulation that the citizens must contribute the remaining $5,000 needed for the project. The residents of Cape Girardeau did more than just affirm their support for a new library building, but also proved their enthusiasm by raising $11,000, more than twice the necessary amount.
The original structure, finished in 1922, was one of the last libraries funded by the Carnegie Corporation. Costing $30,000 to construct, the Collegiate Gothic Style building features a flat roof with a limestone cornice line and window surround and red brick laid in the English bond pattern. In 1959, a new foyer designed by prolific architect and Cape Girardeau native John Boardman, was added onto the main entry, significantly altering the physical appearance. This addition had a much more modern architectural style, with a distinctive and prominent curved wall, made from rough-cut ashlar limestone. As the needs of the community continued to grow, the Public Library moved to its current location on Clark St. in 1980 and Cape Girardeau County took over the old building for offices.
The old Carnegie Library building served the City of Cape Girardeau as a vital source of information and a repository for educational materials for almost 60 years and continues to serve the public’s needs today.