The Atlantic City Free Public Library founded in 1903 and built by a generous grant from Andrew Carnegie was dedicated on January 2, 1905. In a letter to Alfred M. Heston, Chairman of the Building Committee, Andrew Carnegie wrote:
“I trust the Library will fulfill its mission in the highest degree, becoming the center of light to all people.”
For over eighty years the Carnegie Library was that “center of light” as one of the premier public cultural institutions in the City of Atlantic City. From the overwhelming public vote to build a library (6062 for to 30 against) to the attendance at the dedication (2000 inside and another 1000 outside) to the enormous public usage from the day its doors opened, the Atlantic City Free Public Library (Carnegie Library) was a key part of the educational, social, and cultural life of Atlantic City. It was “Open to All,” as was carved over the front door. It was Free, and it was Public. Accordingly, it was one of the places in the city where children and adults of all races, creeds, and cultures could mingle, learn and grow.
In June, 1985 the Atlantic City Free Public Library moved to a much needed larger facility at Tennessee and Atlantic Avenues and the Carnegie Library entered a state of limbo. Inhabited for a period by miscellaneous City of Atlantic City offices, it was finally abandoned in 1994. For almost a decade it stood empty while debate ensued on its best use. Almost 100 years after it opened to grace the corner of Illinois and Pacific Avenues, it has been preserved and reopened through the combined efforts of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), the City of Atlantic City, and Stockton University as the Carnegie Center.
The Carnegie Center is located at the northeast corner of Pacific and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. (formerly Illinois Avenue) in Atlantic City. The property was acquired by the city in 1902 for the purpose of library construction. The Library was designed by Albert R. Ross who won the competition for design initiated by the Atlantic City Free Public Library Board of Trustees. Mr. Ross was a young architect with a growing reputation of participating in the design of many nationally recognized libraries including the Boston Public Library. Among the features prominent in the design of the facility are:
- Symmetrical classical design
- Central stacks open to the public
- Natural light in public areas
- Separate public spaces with specialized materials rather then one large reading room
Mr. Ross designed the building to include an art gallery, museum and meeting rooms on the third floor of the building so that the library could use all avenues of education not just books.
Throughout its eighty years as a Library, it served its purpose in multiple ways. During most of those years it provided citizens with recreation and educational opportunities. During World War I it was a center of the collection and shipment of books to soldiers serving in the armed forces. During the Great Depression, the library and its reference section served the people searching the newspapers for job opportunities, bargains, and answers to radio and newspaper quizzes. It provided reference material about the war abroad during World War II and set up an area where visiting soldiers could come and write letters, even supplying paper, pens and mail service. Above all, the library responded to the needs of the people as they required.
As noted, the library is open to all and as soon as its doors opened in 1905, it became the second home for many of the resort children. The record shows that hundreds of children would go to the library daily after school. Their patronage of the library and the rate at which they devoured all the books, led the administration to limit the check out to one book per week. In addition to the scores of books available, children were treated to exhibits, displays, story hours, and student programs. The impact on the life of the city through the services to its children cannot be overestimated and is perhaps the greatest cultural significance of the facility.
The Carnegie Center in Atlantic City is a manifestation of the late 19th century movement to build libraries and is tangible evidence of the commitment Andrew Carnegie and the leaders of Atlantic City made to this cause. It took the dedication of the many men and women of Atlantic City to vote for this building, to support the elected leaders in their commitment to share the funding, and most importantly, to prove the investment was a good one by their heavy and continued use of the library from the day it opened its doors.
Even though the building went through several periods of improvements and minor renovations over the years, the exterior has remained virtually intact for 100 years, and the interior was only altered in minor ways.
After this $5 million renovation and expansion, the Carnegie Center of Stockton University serves as a central means by which Stockton fulfills its responsibility of civic engagement.
The three-story building features turn-of-the-century architecture, including granite, marble, and terra cotta exterior, terrazzo floors, Scagliola-finished columns, and marble and iron staircases. The over 9,000 square foot building is used as an educational and instructional facility, meeting place, conference center, and venue for community outreach. The entire facility is wired with the latest technology, including wall-mounted displays, high-speed wireless Internet access, document cameras and VCR’s. Adjacent to Carnegie is the Civil Rights Garden, a powerful tribute to the architects of the Civil Rights Movement. The Carnegie Center provides support as a venue for accompanying lectures, receptions, and other events that occur at the Garden.
Today, it houses undergraduate and graduate courses, continuing education and professional development programs as well as special events. In addition, Carnegie is home to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) of Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland Counties, and the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute for Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism office.