The Story Behind the Name: Old Carnegie

Young, Crounse, Sutcliffe, Breckinridge . . . today these names are simply places where we go to learn chemistry or philosophy, to work out, to meet a professor or hang with a friend. But before they were attached to particular buildings, these names belonged to real people whose close ties to Centre reveal fascinating stories.

As the College wends its way toward its bicentennial in 2019, it seems timely to recall the people who lent their names to campus landmarks.


Centre’s Carnegie Library opened in June 1914. Its name honored the 19th-century industrialist Andrew Carnegie, whose $30,000 gift helped make it possible. A brick building with stone trimming and tile roof, it served as the College’s library until Grace Doherty Library opened in 1967.

Andrew Carnegie made a fortune in  steel, and then gave much of it away—more than $350 million—to philanthropic organizations including the Carnegie Corporation of  New York and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He had a particular interest in libraries, building more than 2,500 across the country and the English-speaking world. Most were community or public libraries, but not all.

Born in Scotland in 1835, Carnegie immigrated with his family to the Pittsburgh area at 13 and started his first job as a bobbin boy working 12 hours a day at the cotton factory where his father also worked. He moved on to a telegraph company, where he made useful contacts, and the Pennsylvania Railroad, where he learned the value of iron railway bridges, steel rails, and wise investments. Although a short man, barely five feet tall, his Carnegie Steel Company became one of the largest of its kind in the world and revolutionized steel production in the United States.

As he grew ever more prosperous, he became ever more convinced that great wealth requires great responsibility. In 1889 he wrote an essay, “Wealth” (now better known as “The Gospel of Wealth”), in which he urged those with resources to share their riches with their communities, retaining only what they needed to meet the basic needs of their families.

“[T]he best means of benefiting the community is to place within its reach the ladders upon which the aspiring can rise,” he wrote, “free libraries, parks, and means of recreation, by which men are helped in body and mind, works of art, certain to give pleasure and improve the public tastes, and public institutions of various kinds, which will improve the general condition of the people. . . .”

The essay is still considered one of the most important ever written in American philanthropy.

He sold Carnegie Steel in 1901 to financier J.P. Morgan and devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy. “The man who dies rich dies disgraced,” he often said.

Henry Watterson, then the influential editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, first introduced Andrew Carnegie to Centre College in 1902. Three years later, in 1905, Carnegie proposed giving Centre $30,000 for a new library on the condition that the College match the amount in order to ensure an endowment for the library’s upkeep. It took a while to raise the necessary funds, but work on Centre’s Carnegie Library began in 1913, with the formal dedication held during commencement week of 1914.

In addition to a large reading room on the second floor and stack rooms, the original Carnegie building also contained the president’s office, a faculty room, and two seminar rooms. It replaced the much smaller Sayre Library.

A further Centre connection came about in 1919, a few months before Carnegie died, when his only daughter, Margaret, married Roswell Miller Jr., a grandson of Centre’s ninth president, William C. Roberts, who served from 1898 until his death in 1903.

After Doherty Library opened in 1967, the Carnegie building served at various times as the admission office, bookstore, and campus post office. It now houses the Center for Career & Professional Development, the Center for Global Citizenship, and the Evans-Lively Room, a dining room for special occasions named for former board chair James H. Evans ’43 and former vice chair Pierce Lively ’43. The building was individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

by Diane Johnson
September 29, 2016

Article featured in the fall 2016 edition of Centrepiece magazine.

By |2018-07-27T16:49:42-04:00September 29th, 2016|Academics, News|