The History of the El Reno Carnegie Library


The history of the El Reno Carnegie Library is a long and rich one. In the 1890s the Athenaeum Club of El Reno organized a small library. In the beginning, members met in each other’s homes and held small entertainments to raise money to buy books. In 1902, the club succeeded in gathering enough citizen support to persuade the city council to establish and maintain a public library.

Appointed to the Library Board of directors were E.D. Humphrey, Henry Lassen, J. Hensley, J.A. Hatchett, I.C. Montgomery and S.H. Reid. In 1897 the board made arrangements to rent rooms on the second floor of the building at 219 W. Bickford to house the library. The rent for those rooms was $17.50 a month. Athenaeum contracted clubs in town to solicit funds and books for the library. The first librarian was E.D. Cave.

historic photo of the El Reno Carnegie LibraryOn January 28, 1904, the board voted to accept Andrew Carnegie’s proposition to give $12,500 if the city would agree to maintain the library at an expense of not less than $1,250 a year.

The library board accepted the completed building on May 5, 1905.

Twenty-four public libraries received grants from Andrew Carnegie between 1900 and 1922 totaling almost $500,000.

Original Carnegie Libraries

Ardmore, Bartlesville, Chickasha, Collinsville, Cordell, El Reno, Elk City, Enid, Fredrick, Guthrie, Hobart, Lawton, McAlester, Miami, Muskogee, Oklahoma City, Perry, Ponca City, Sapulpa, Shawnee, Tahlequah, Tulsa, Wagoner and Woodward.

Original Features of the El Reno Carnegie Library

When it opened, the El Reno Carnegie Library became the fourth Carnegie Library in the Oklahoma Territory and is currently the oldest Carnegie library building in the state still used as a library.

Original features of the downstairs section include embossed ceilings, marble lobby and stairs. The decorative terra cotta above the desk was painted in 1953. The second floor of the library was originally an auditorium with a stage at the west end. The auditorium was used as a local theater for plays as well as the location for El Reno High School graduations until 1912.

In 1927 the stage was walled off, and in 1980 the ceiling was lowered in what is now used as the children’s library. At that time, a fulltime children’s librarian was hired.


A bond issue was passed to provide an addition that would include an archives room, air-conditioning equipment and other needed improvements. The addition was completed in 1964 at a cost of $54,000. The archives room was named after longtime El Reno librarian Edna May Armold. In 1980, the Ashbrook Foundation gave $50,000 and the City of El Reno matched that grant to add more improvements. A meeting room, a reference room and two restrooms were built. The meeting room was named in honor of Mary K. Ashbrook.

Library Joins the 21st Century

In 2003, an anonymous donor gave the library money to duplicate the original doors and also to automate the library. That grant along with grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation brought the library into the computer age.

Services and Programs for Our Community

Throughout the years the library staff has worked to bring the citizens of El Reno programs of interest. Offerings have included programs for all ages.

Children’s story time is a well-loved program that has been offered for many years, and adults often return to the library to share their memories. The library also offers programs after school and during the summer.

The El Reno Carnegie Library stands ready to embrace the challenges ahead in order to meet the ever-changing needs of the community.

El Reno Carnegie Library Now

As the library offers its second century of service to the community, things that the framers of the venerable structure never imagined have come into being, including video, audio and computers with access to the internet.

All of this is available free of charge to the citizenry, just as Andrew Carnegie stipulated so many years ago.

—The history of the El Reno Carnegie Library was originally published in the El Reno Carnegie Library 100th Anniversary Cookbook.

In 2019, the El Reno Carnegie Library underwent a renovation on both floors. It re-opened in October 2019, with new features and updated furnishings while still keeping much of the original structure and distinctive characteristics, such as the original tin ceiling, columns, wood trim and doors.