Andrew Carnegie is well known as a generous philanthropist, but his endeavors in Maine are not often talked about. Andrew Carnegie believed that men of fortune should set an example and he wrote, “In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves.” Over the course of 23 years, he gave over $39 million to small communities over the United States to build public libraries. In Maine alone, Carnegie funded the building of over 20 libraries, including the Lewiston Public Library which was already under construction. He bestowed upon them a $60,000 dollar grant from the Carnegie Corporation on January 15th, 1901 to ensure its completion.
In keeping with his belief that his charitable contributions should go to those that helped themselves, the money for the libraries came with some straight-forward stipulations. The libraries would be free to patrons. The city or town not only had to own the land, but it had to be a parcel that would ensure expansion could be made to the facility if and when it was needed. Carnegie also required that a support fund be established by the towns to insure proper maintenance of the library.
George M. Coombs designed the Lewiston Public Library. Coombs was a noted Maine architect with numerous buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. He was born in Brunswick and was the son of a shipbuilder. Coombs moved to the Lewiston area at the young age of 17 to work in the construction boom in the mill district, which is where he learned his trade. He became an independent architect and his company is still in existence.
The majority of the granite used in construction of the Lewiston Library came from Jay, Maine. According to the North Jay White Granite Park literature, 318 men working for the Maine and New Hampshire Granite Company made an average of one million paving blocks per year with a weekly payroll of only $9,000. This fascinating picture is just some of the cast of characters that produced the blocks now scattered across the globe.
Worth checking out at the Lewiston Public Library is the Marsden Hartley Cultural Center named after the Lewiston native who went on to become a world renowned 20th century artist. After traveling and painting all over the world, Hartley returned to Maine in 1916 and continued to paint until his death in 1943. His ashes were scattered on the Androscoggin River.