Racine Heritage Museum (1904)
​On September 9, 1897 the city’s first free public library opened in rented space in the McClurg Building, 245 Main Street. The single room housed nearly 4,000 books and welcomed about 1,000 Racine citizens on opening day. With the library quickly outgrowing the space, the Library Board sought and received funds from Andrew Carnegie, whose Foundation financed 1,679 libraries in the United States. 

701 Main Street was chosen as the site. The then-existing dwelling, barn, outhouse, brick sidewalks, fences and bushes were sold and moved in 1902, and by May of 1903 the cornerstone of the new library was laid. Architect John Lawrence Mauran, from St. Louis, Missouri, designed the building in the Renaissance Revival style, ornamented in molded terra cotta. When this building opened to the public on March 8, 1904 the Western Library Association called it “the Library Beautiful.”

Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie (1834 – 1919) immigrated to Allegheny, Pennsylvania at 12 years of age. His formal education (three years) ended with immigration, but because Allegheny’s Colonel James Anderson allowed young workers to borrow a book from his personal library every Saturday, Carnegie kept reading. Carnegie later said this opportunity, “Opened the windows through which the light of knowledge streamed.”, and he resolved to make similar opportunities available to other poor workers should he ever be wealthy. Carnegie eventually created the Carnegie Steel Company, and did indeed become wealthy. In 1901 he sold the steel company for $250,000,000, retired and devoted the rest of his life to giving away his immense wealth. Libraries were one of his favorite philanthropies.

By 1912 Racine needed more library space. A second request was made of Andrew Carnegie, and granted. On Memorial Day of 1914 the Junction Branch at 1407 South Memorial Drive was dedicated. Built in the Prairie style, it served as a branch library for 74 years. Racine is one of only 58 communities to receive Carnegie grants for more than one library.

By 1956 the building at 701 Main Street no longer served the library needs of the community. The city council approved the construction of a new central library building at the southeast corner of Seventh and Lake Streets. On a pleasant day in May of 1958 over 2000 volunteers, organized by the Racine Junior Chamber of Commerce and its auxiliary, carried stacks of books from one building to the next. Numbered cards kept the volumes in order, and as library staff called out numbers, 75,000 books were quickly re-shelved in their new location.

The Carnegie building was transferred to county management in 1961, and opened as the Racine County Museum in 1962. Today over 30,000 visitors annually pass through the portals of Racine Heritage Museum to explore and discover Racine County’s Underground Railroad, inventors and inventions, immigration and settlement, and Sports Hall of Fame athletes and coaches.

Preservation Racine greatly appreciates the Heritage Museum’s role in preserving local history and being a depository of local archives, and for participating in this year’s tour.