Carnegie Free Public Library (site)

Financed by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Reno's first public library opened in 1902.

Attempts to establish public libraries in Reno began in the 1880s, but funding them proved to be problematic. In 1901, after numerous attempts to secure taxes for libraries, State Assemblyman Frank Norcross of Reno wrote to the millionaire steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, requesting that Carnegie’s library foundation fund a library for Reno.

Carnegie, who came to America as an uneducated Scottish immigrant, credited a library for setting him on the right path, and he wanted to provide such opportunities to others. He began donating libraries to communities across the country in 1886.

The basic requirement for securing a Carnegie library was a population of more than 1,000, with the amount of the gift set at $2 per capita. Recipient towns were required to provide a site for the library and to tax themselves at a rate of 10 percent of the total gift. The funds were to be used to maintain the building, buy books, and pay the salaries of the library staff. Frank Norcross’s November 14, 1901 letter to Carnegie requesting a library for Reno closed with, “I assure you that no other place would appreciate your generosity more than Reno, Nevada.”

After some discussions over the actual size of Reno’s population, Carnegie awarded the town $15,000 for the erection of a “Free Public Library Building” in 1902. The county commissioners and the newly constituted Board of Library Trustees selected a site at Virginia and Mill streets and advertised for an architect. Six architects were considered, but the commission was awarded to William H. Wilcox of San Francisco, who had just completed a Classical Revival-style Carnegie Library in Alameda, California. For Reno’s smaller building, Wilcox chose the Second Renaissance Revival style. To Carnegie, style was secondary to convenience; however, Wilcox was able to accomplish both architectural distinction and library functionality.

Immediately after its opening in 1904, the Carnegie Library became Reno’s most important cultural institution, but by the late 1920s, the library collection had outgrown the building. To relieve the overcrowding, the collection was moved in 1930 into the Nevada State Building, which had been built across Mill Street for the 1927 Transcontinental Highway Exposition.

A proposal to move the now-vacant Carnegie building to Sparks to serve as a branch library was deemed impracticable, and the building was demolished in 1931. A new U.S. Post Office building opened on the site in 1934.


A Greek temple
A Greek temple Upon its opening in 1904, the new library was praised for resembling "a Greek temple in the midst of a sacred garden." Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie Between 1886 and 1919, Carnegie's donations of more than $40 million paid for 1,679 new library buildings in the United States, including the one in Reno. Source: U.S. Library of Congress
Plans wanted
Plans wanted An open call for architectural plan submissions for the proposed Carnegie Library ran in the Reno Evening Gazette in March 1903. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: March 20, 1903
Greenery A hand-tinted postcard of the new library depicts a vibrant lawn and freshly-planted saplings. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
The new library, ca. 1906
The new library, ca. 1906 The buildings in the background of this early postcard occupy the east side of Virginia Street, north of the Truckee River. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: ca. 1906
A Reno landmark, ca. 1910
A Reno landmark, ca. 1910 The Carnegie Library appears in a panorama postcard, ca. 1910. Reno City Hall can be seen behind and to the right of the library, on the north side of the river. Source: Dick Dreiling Date: ca. 1910
Architectural achievements
Architectural achievements The Carnegie Library, new Riverside Hotel, and Virginia Street Bridge, viewed here from the river's north bank, were all completed within a two-year period between 1904-1906. Source: Neal Cobb


7 Mill Street, Reno, NV


Mella Rothwell Harmon, “Carnegie Free Public Library (site),” Reno Historical, accessed June 14, 2024,