Carnegie library pillars

Roman Cultural Society Garden, spring 2020 (SCHS photo)

The five limestone columns that face the courtyard of the Washington Park Horticulture Center make up the last exterior remains of Springfield’s old Carnegie library.

Andrew Carnegie paid part of the construction cost of the old library, which opened in 1904 at Seventh Street and Capitol Avenue. The building was faced with Bedford limestone from Indiana, including six massive columns spaced across its Seventh Street side.

The Carnegie building was torn down in 1974 to make room for a modern, more efficient library. Officials saved a few interior fixtures, including a nine-foot-tall grandfather clock that once stood on the stairway landing above the entrance to the old library. However, it took citizen donations to preserve the exterior columns and then to install them in the park.

In an effort led by Ralph Bowen, contributions from individuals and the Sangamon County Historical Society paid to take the columns off the building. In the process, however, one of the original six columns slipped out of a pulley. It fell to the ground and broke into pieces.

The original plan was to use the five remaining columns in a theater proposed for Washington Park, but the park district failed twice to obtain grants to build the theater. Bowen’s group then donated the columns to the Roman Cultural Society, which provided the funds to install a garden in front of the Horticulture Center. The garden was one of the society’s annual civic improvement programs, former president Joe Alessandrini said when the garden was finished in 1979.

Park officials “had been wanting to develop a garden to screen the horticulture building and complement the rose garden,” Alessandrini told an Illinois State Journal reporter.

The garden, designed by architect Richard Stockbarger, contains floral plantings that are changed seasonally.

A plaque in front of the columns recognizes the Roman Cultural Society, the historical society and the citizens who contributed to the preservation effort.

Ralph Bowen

Ralph Bowen (1904-89), was a career music teacher and co-founder of the Rees Carillon Society, which supports the carillon in Washington Park. The Roman Cultural Society Garden sits in the shadow of the carillon.

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.




This entry was posted in Architecture, Arts and letters, Parks, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Carnegie library pillars

  1. Melinda McDonald says:

    Wow I had no idea that these columns were originally part of the old library!

  2. Tom Jones says:

    Ralph Bowen was my cello teacher in 1960s. He was an outstanding and inspiring music instructor. Mr. Bowen took us to Chicago for a National Music Educators conference and workshop with String Class Method author, Gilbert R. Waller.
    My parents could not afford to purchase a good cello, and Mr. Bowen always made sure I had a quality instrument for performing and practicing.
    Thanks to Ralph Bowen, I enjoyed some of the best times in early schooldays.

  3. Al Farmer says:

    It is a shame to see these sitting out there, when they would certainly be put to better use adorning a portico or other edifice.

    I have to wonder how in the world these ended up in the care of the Roman Cultural Society, unless there was no one else to care for them.

    They are Ionic columns, distinguished by the Volutes (scrolls) at the base of the Capital, and Dentils on the Cornices, and are one of the five orders of ancient GREEK architecture. I know this because I am a 40-year Freemason and also because I am a member, Past Master and Secretary of IONIC LODGE NO. 186, AF & AM, DULUTH MN.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *