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Why Three Libraries Claim To Be The Oldest In Texas

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Courtesy of Carnegie Library in Bryan, Texas
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The Carnegie Library in Bryan, Texas is one of the oldest libraries in the state.

From Texas Standard:

The wonderful thing about the age of the internet is having a library at your fingertips. Anything is available online. My question: what is the oldest library in Texas? With a click of a search button, there's your answer. Well, answers. According to this map, there are three oldest libraries in Texas. Which is, of course, not logically possible.

 

I called up John Augelli, the executive director of the Rosenberg Library in Galveston – named for a Galveston business leader and philanthropist.

The library opened on June 22, 1904, Augelli says. Henry Rosenberg had been dead for many years before the library opened, but June 22 was his birthday, so that was the date selected for the opening.

“It was the first major public building that was constructed in Galveston after the 1900 storm,” Augelli says. “According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Rosenberg library is the oldest public library in Texas in continuous operation."

But that claim might have a challenge here if Google is right. We got Bryan, Texas on the line. Rachael Medders of the Carnegie Library in Bryan says it opened in 1903.

"We had quite a few saloons in Bryan, Texas before the Carnegie came to exist,” Medders says. “Lots of ladies in the town thought that we needed a lot more culture than hangings on the courthouse lawn and plenty of uncouth drinking saloons. So the Women's Club – which was formerly known as the Municipal Improvement Club – thought that they really, really could do with a Carnegie library because the news had started to spread that Mr. Carnegie was giving grants."

Yet, there's a third dot on this Google map and it's hovering squarely over the barbecue capital of Texas – Lockhart.

Bertha Martinez is the director of Dr. Eugene Clark Library. We caught up with her just coming back from Smitty's barbecue joint.

"We are the oldest continuously operating library in the state of Texas,” Martinez says. “We were built in 1899 and dedicated on July 6 of 1900.

"Dr. Eugene Clark was a doctor who was passing through the city of Lockhart – fell in love with the citizens and the city. When he left back to his home in New Orleans, he left $10,000 for our library to be built."

From three different acts of philanthropy came three libraries more than a century old. But only one can be the oldest library in Texas. For all the convenience of Google, we may have to turn to a pro.

Mark Smith, director and librarian for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, says the Rosenberg Library is the oldest continuously operating library in the state of Texas.

“[It] was opened in January 1871 as the Galveston Public Library,” Smith says. “Then, after the hurricane in the early years of the century, rebuilt.”

What about the Carnegie Library?

"The Carnegie Library in Bryan – their claim to fame is that they are the oldest library in continuous operation in a Carnegie Library in Texas," Smith says.

And the Eugene Clark Library?

"The Eugene Clark library was founded in 1899 and it is the oldest library in continuous operation in the same facility," Smith says.

So a trophy for all three. But at the end of the day, so long as there's a library closeby, we’re all winners.

David entered radio journalism thanks to a love of storytelling, an obsession with news, and a desire to keep his hair long and play in rock bands. An inveterate political junkie with a passion for pop culture and the romance of radio, David has reported from bases in Washington, London, Los Angeles, and Boston for Monitor Radio and for NPR, and has anchored in-depth public radio documentaries from India, Brazil, and points across the United States and Europe. He is, perhaps, known most widely for his work as host of public radio's Marketplace. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to Texas full-time in 2005, Brown joined the staff of KUT, launching the award-winning cultural journalism unit "Texas Music Matters."
Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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