Palestine renovates historic library, revives its original purpose

PALESTINE, Texas (KLTV) - One East Texas town is breathing life back into a historic building, turning it back into a library after nearly one hundred years.

“This is a little treasure for our local community,” said Palestine Tourism Marketing Manager Mary Raum.

The Carnegie Library is one of only 12 in Texas built using grants by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Of the 1,689 public libraries built in the United States, only about 750 function today.

Raum says when the library was built nearly a century ago, it cost only $15,000 to construct.

“Well, this is the Carnegie Library: it was built—completed—in 1914,” said Raum. “It was the first home, true home, of the Palestine public library.”

The building was vacated in the 1970s due to size and structural concerns, and the library was relocated. Since then, it has served many purposes including being used as the chamber of commerce, city offices, an event venue, and even a museum.

“It’s seen a lot of foot traffic in its heyday,” said Raum.

She explained Palestine is known for its historic sites, ranking second in the state, and it’s very significant that the city is investing in the restoration of properties like the library.

She said the primary reason the space hasn’t been used in recent years is because it’s not ADA compliant.

“That’s kind of the first thing we put on the hit list—let’s make it ADA compliant, accessible by all,” said Raum.

One way they are doing that is by adding an elevator.

City Manager Teresa Herrera said selecting the historic building for the future home of the library will save millions of dollars. Building a new library would cost about $30 million. Renovations will cost only $1.8 million.

She says its location will make it easier for the community to access.

“It is within walking distance to our neighborhoods, so foot traffic will increase there,” said Herrera.

The city of Palestine plans to have the renovated Carnegie Library open to the public by April of 2023.

Willie Downs

Willie Downs

Willie Downs is a KLTV news reporter and born and raised in East Texas. He earned his Bachelor of Business Administration from The University of Texas at Arlington and graduated with honors from the Mass Communication Foundations course at the Defense Information School, as a member of the Air Force Reserve.