The next adventure takes me to Sanborn, Iowa. Population 1384 (2017 records) 

The reason why the population is such a striking detail to me is the size of the community and being able to secure the funds from Carnegie to build a library in town.

Like always, I love wandering around a small town like Sanborn and discovering little things like a city park off of Hwy 18 that displays both a freedom rock (with a young couple celebrating the end of World War 2) and a retired caboose from the (Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul). These few things symbolized something deeper with me because my uncle lived, retired, and eventually passed away in this little town and with it he fit the entire scene the community was trying to recreate in those two landmarks. My uncle came back to Sanborn a WWII veteran and eventually ended up working for the railroad.

However, the question still pondered in the back of my mind, WHY? Why did Carnegie donate $5,000 towards the construction of a library in little old Sanborn, Iowa? The history in the answer of this question is remarkable. A leader in the community (Mrs. Burns) had been dedicated and working on a library in the town for years. In fact, the first public library was organized in 1901 through civic clubs and volunteers and flourished through business people who kept the books in their stores.  Two years later the town hired a full-time librarian and moved the books to a room in Sanborn’s Opera House. So, the internal structure of the library already existed. Sanborn had the books, and had the librarian, they simply needed a building!

Mrs. Burns personally wrote Carnegie, making her plea (and although I don’t have the letter…the actual letter is in possession by the local preservation society, and didn’t have access to the letter the day I was interviewing Fay (local business owner and current manager of the Carnegie Library property). The building can be rented as a local gathering place or rented as a nightly room for lodging.

While talking with Fay, I learned that originally Carnegie only accepted his money to go to populations of 10,000 or more to sustain the library, but the question was brought to Carnegie on WHY he we would exclude smaller communities, and that many already had the support and the existence of a library and needed support for other things with the building. The rule or the thought process changed eventually, and with that change opened the possibility that smaller sized Sanborn had a chance for Carnegie funding.

Sanborn’s Carnegie Library was built in 1911 and then remodeled in 1964 to add a children’s library in the basement.



Even though $5,000 was donated, the actual building only took $4,500 and with that donation the Sanborn Carnegie Library came to exist.

sanborn clipping

However, the story doesn’t end here, as we know some of the libraries across the country today have either outgrown their purpose either in functionality with being handicapped accessible or in size with books and other resources, and have either been torn down and replaced, or sold off and changed into other things like museums, offices, apartments, or gift shops. Sanborn was no exception to the changing landscape and faced losing the structure before 2007 when the new library would be built. A group of leaders in the community stepped up to save the building, and during the process had to come up with a new location for the building because the new library was going to be built at the exact location of the Carnegie library, so either move the building or lose it.

The Preservation society leadership made the bold choice to move the structure, and work with other business leaders in finding a new home for the building. Today, the structure is down the street and around the corner about two blocks from its original location. Here is a picture of them moving the library in 2006.


It amazed me the amount of work that went into restoring and saving this historical building. It’s either the smallest grant that Carnegie gave out for a library OR one of the smallest, but it holds testimony to the Carnegie Foundation’s philosophy of putting art and books out into society and publicly acknowledging Carnegie’s own upbringing and education as an immigrant. Books, Libraries….they make the world go round! (or so I think!)

Again, it was a delight to learn more about the library talking with locals, and if you get the chance to stop down town at the local floral shop, Fay would be willing to talk with you about the library! It’s absolutely beautiful what they did to the structure and the idea around how they saved a piece of history!

Here are a few more pics of the library.


Sanborn is on Highway 18 if you are in the NW corner of Iowa, just a few miles away from Sheldon along Highway 60. If you are ever in the area, I would suggest taking a stop and checking out this beautiful library. Just the history itself is worth a stop. Bravo Sanborn in saving your piece of history with the Carnegie Library!


Happy Reading!

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