- Associated Press - Sunday, November 20, 2016

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - One of downtown Beatrice’s most recognizable buildings celebrated its 113th birthday in October as the former home of Beatrice’s Public Library continues to serve the community.

The Carnegie building on North Fifth Street now houses the Chamber of Commerce, Gage County Tourism and NGage economic development group.

It’s been more than a century since the Carnegie was constructed, but some in the community still have deep connections to the men and women who are responsible for its development and completion.

One of the construction workers who helped build the Carnegie at the turn of the century still has family members living in Beatrice, Dorothy Snyder and her brother Art Marsh. Their great-grandfather, Daniel Denehy, was a subcontractor at the time the Carnegie’s construction and helped ensure that the building would remain standing in 2016.

“Every time we passed by the Carnegie my father, Lyle Marsh, would point out that his grandfather helped build it,” Dorothy Snyder recalled. “He was very proud. My father was a mechanic and his father was a carpenter. There were both always very good with their hands.”

Although Snyder never got the chance to meet her great-grandfather, she always took pride in the fact that he helped in the construction of one of Beatrice’s oldest historic buildings.

“Sometimes I just like to go in there and see how it’s been,” she said. “My father donated Daniel’s tools to the museum here in town and I’m very proud that my family helped build it and that it used to be a library.”

Pride in Denehy’s work was passed down through generations of the family, as Art Marsh shares his sister’s feelings.

“My father and grandfather always told us that he used to put two places in places where other contractors would just have used one,” Marsh said. “That proved to be true when I lived in an apartment in town that he built and saw it for myself. He helped build several very big homes in town.”

The Daily Sun (https://bit.ly/2fiHy27 ) reports that constructed in 1903 after the city received a grant from Andrew Carnegie, one of the wealthiest and most charitable Americans at the time (Forbes calculated his fortune to be over $300 billion after adjusted for inflation in 2007), the Carnegie was originally purposed to hold the city’s first public library.

It was the third Carnegie to be constructed in Nebraska, following Lincoln’s in 1899 and Fremont’s in 1902. It is currently the oldest one to remain standing in the state.

According to Laureen Reidesel Beatrice Public Library Director, Carnegie funded projects for libraries throughout the country because valued education and felt that adult education and learning were essential for everybody.

“One of the most important aspects of the Carnegie to him was the stairs because he wanted it to feel like people were walking up to their education,” she said.

Following the building’s 111th birthday in 2014, Reidesel told the Daily Sun that the building was constructed during an economic decline and was built with the idea that everyone should have the opportunity to better themselves.

“This really reflects the idea of Carnegie that libraries were the people’s university,” she said at the time. “This was a place where people could better themselves and everybody could be equal. He wanted big stairs leading up to learning. He also tried to emulate university and classical style buildings with that.”

Years later an area of the library was set aside for children’s learning as Carnegie focused primarily on adult education and that emphasis on children’s learning spread to libraries across the county.

“The minute I saw the building, I loved its architecture and history and for me as a fan of history working in a Carnegie was very exciting,” Reidesel said. “I have always wanted to work in a Carnegie library building. They’re just iconic and I got my wish when I came to work here in Beatrice.”

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the mid-1970s.

After nearly 90 years of housing the city’s first and only public library, the Beatrice Public Library moved to its current location at 16th and Court streets in 1991.

“We did our very best to utilize the building as best we could, but the building was just not designed for the amount of books we needed to store there,” she said. “Very early on we realized that. It became harder and to adapt the building to what we needed. The lower level was not handicap accessible and we needed modern technology that simply couldn’t be wired into the building at the time.”

In 2011, the Carnegie received a $1 million overhaul to give Beatrice’s most historic building new life. Department of Economic Development grant funds provided more than $300,000 for the project.

“It’s now being much better used for what it could accommodate,” Reidesel added. “It’s still open for the public to go in and look around and its intent to remain a service to the public has remained the same. NGage and the Chamber are doing different things, but the intent has stayed the same.”

The renovations featured new entrances, an elevator, and helped to modernize the building.

“It sat empty for a long time and people really stepped up to get it renovated and worked together to keep it,” said Glennis McClure, Senior Development Coordinator for Economic Development for NGage.

McClure has worked in the Carnegie since April, 2014 and said that the historical presence of the building helps to make a good impression for business owners who are considering moving their business into town.

“It really helps with NGage when we bring organizations into town and show them a building that Beatrice residents take great pride in,” she said.

While the exterior remains true to its original form, the interior received a new paint scheme, conference room and offices.

“When I go in there, I feel like I’m in a dream,” Reidesel said. “It is so wonderful to see it in a community-wide use that everyone can enjoy.”

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Information from: Beatrice Sun, https://www.beatricedailysun.com

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