Bolivar Missouri Public Library

Polk County Library

The name Andrew Carnegie likely rings a few bells for the average and expert tourist or historian. In 1889, Carnegie wrote an article in which he stated that “in bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who help themselves.” Throughout the 1880s, he methodically gave away most of his $60 million fortune to a series of public libraries. By the time he passed away, he had built 1,689 libraries across the United States. In many towns across the United States, these Carnegie-funded libraries are often the best-looking buildings in each community. It was a pioneering mission on Carnegie’s part: a series of libraries that were open to the public and free of charge. He believed in bestowing his wealth on others, for in his words, “the man who dies rich dies in disgrace.” The oldest library in Washington, DC, built-in 1903, was dedicated to the diffusion of knowledge, and so are the rest of these buildings across the country, including the one in Bolivar.

The Bolivar Public Library is one of the nearly 1,700 libraries the Carnegie Library program constructed. This is the only Carnegie Library in Polk County and one of just 22 in Missouri. This library, erected in 1915, served as Bolivar’s first public library. It was built via a Carnegie grant for $8,000 and donated land from local philanthropist T.H.B. Dunnegan, the head of the Bolivar Library Board. The example of philanthropy Dunnegan brought to this project carried over into many others in Bolivar, including the building of two new elementary schools and the new courthouse. The project was heavily supported by then Bolivar Free Public Library Board, the Bolivar City Council, and the Bolivar Commercial Club. All the members of these organizations worked with the Carnegie Corporation for over 18 months to build and complete the project. These men (yes, all men) wanted to follow the national trend of libraries moving away from the concept of paid and private social clubs and being regarded as necessary civil amenities for all up-and-coming communities. In the year 2000, the building became the home of the Polk County Genealogical Society, in addition to still serving as a public library.

Today, the building still looks very much the same as when it was constructed. The original dedication plaque is still present and legible, with thanks given to Carnegie and Dunnegan for their gifts. The architecture is very much unchanged. The building was designed by James Heckenlively, who also designed the Carnegie Library in Springfield. The building is brick and has limestone and terra cotta ornamentation, with simplified classical revival motifs. It has served the community well since its opening. In just its first five days of operation, it created 430 reader cards and checked out 400 books in a town that had less than 2,000 residents. The Polk County Library now holds many of the volumes of original books, and the two-story building now holds family records for hundreds of families. The Bolivar Public Library, in the words of the 2003 National Historic Places application, “came into existence with the help of Andrew Carnegie and stayed in use with the support of the citizens of Bolivar. It survives today as a fine representative example of a Carnegie Library in Missouri, in both form and long-time patterns of use.” We hope you enjoy this tour of a shining example of Bolivar’s commitment to the better of its citizens.



120 E Jackson St, Bolivar, MO 65613 ~ On the corner of E Jackson St. and S. Springfield Ave. is now the Polk County Genealogical Society, Located across the Courthouse Square Gazebo. The Polk County Library is located at 1690 W Broadway St, Bolivar, MO 65613.