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Now 100, the Carnegie began as a mission to change Roseville

Library gave railroad workers an alternative to booze
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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From a civilizing force against “Whiskey Row” to a looking-glass for the city’s hardships and triumphs, the building known as the Carnegie Museum has served many functions for Roseville over the last hundred years.

Now, with a pubic centennial celebration planned for Oct. 13, those most familiar with the Carnegie Museum’s history are discussing the niches it’s filled in Roseville’s community life.

It started in 1906, when the sleepy railroad hub of Roseville was suddenly invaded by hundreds of new men looking to work on the steel lines. Southern Pacific Railroad had just moved its division point from Rocklin to Roseville and the influx of men was something beyond anything people in the town had ever seen. According to local historian Leonard Davis, Pacific Street was soon inundated with the wild sounds of saloons, gambling halls and brothels. It quickly earned the nickname “Whiskey Row.” Tales of drunkenness and debauchery were among the most common headlines in the Roseville Register newspaper, which later became the Press Tribune.

As the Carnegie Museum’s current curator, Phoebe Astill is quick to point out the growing ill repute came with a price.

“Basically, the railroad companies were getting fed up with their employees coming to work drunk all the time,” Astill said. “They started threatening to pull up stakes and take their tracks elsewhere.”

Given how vital the railroad had become to the city’s economic life blood, most residents understood such a move would be a disaster. It was the city’s newly formed Women’s Improvement Club that took on the challenge.

“The women’s improvement club thought maybe if all these men had a library full of books to read they might have other places to put their energy,” she said. “They were the ones who reached out to Andrew Carnegie. They knew his foundation was helping build a number of libraries across the country, so they contacted him.”

The steel baron did not disappoint Roseville’s ladies with his generosity, offering a $10,000 grant to build a new center for culture and learning. The women’s club managed to raise an additional $2,000 through fundraisers, as well as secure a donation of the land and labor costs by resident A.B. McCray. Ultimately, Roseville’s proactive ladies would pay for an architect to dream up the new Greek revival elements of the structure, as well as the brick and tiles from Lincoln and granite from the Rocklin quarry.

In 1912, the Carnegie Library opened its doors. Through two world wars, 14 presidents and a landing on the moon, the building served as a community hall and learning center. In 1982, the Carnegie building closed its doors as a library and was all but abandoned. A year later, the Roseville Historical Society was formed. One of its main objectives was to make sure the Carnegie building would find a new place in the city’s modern life. After years of refurbishing work and preparation, the historic Carnegie Museum made its debut in 1988.

On Oct. 13 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the historical society will host a public birthday party for the Carnegie building called Centennial Saturday at the Museum event. The event includes special museum displays, historic walking tours, a city proclamation at noon and various children’s activities.

Natasha Casteel, Roseville’s city librarian, believes the legacy of the old structure is worth honoring.

“The women who made this happen back in 1912 understood how important access to education and learning were in order for the city to move forward,” Casteel said. “It’s very significant that they were actually able to pull together and making a turning point for the community.”