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Carnegie Library

Johnson C. Smith University
100 Beatties Ford Road


On November 15, 1911, a crowd of local dignitaries gathered on the campus of what was then Biddle Institute, now Johnson C. Smith University, to lay the cornerstone for the school’s Carnegie Library. Prominent Charlotte attorney Heriot Clarkson was there. Daniel Augustus Tompkins, a South Carolinian who had come to Charlotte in 1883 to launch a program of industrial expansion, was there. Dr. Henry L. McCrorey, president of Biddle Institute, was there. The architects of the building, Leonard Hunter and Frank Gordon, were there.


Biddle Institute had opened in 1867 in a church at Fourth and Davidson Streets in Uptown Charlotte and had moved to its hilltop campus on Beatties Ford Rd. two years later. Originally named for Henry J. Biddle, a Union officer in the Civil War whose widow had given money to the school, Biddle Institute had begun awarding degrees in 1876. "Probably no colored college institution in the South is better known or has done a more valuable work than has Biddle with the exception of the larger and richer institute of Dr. Booker T. Washington at Tuskeegee, Ala.," insisted the Charlotte Observer.

The first African American president of Biddle Institute was Rev. Daniel J. Sanders. About 1904, Sanders sent a letter to steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who provided funds to help establish libraries throughout the United States. Carnegie agreed to give $12,500 if Biddle Institute could match that amount. The challenge was met.

The Carnegie Library is an example of the Neo Classical style so prevalent on academic campuses across the nation. The interior of the structure has been changed to make the building suitable for offices. But the exterior remains largely intact. A marble plaque near the northwest corner of the Carnegie Library contains the phrase in Latin: "Reading makes a full man."