Monday, January 29, 2007

Central Pacific Libraries

From: "Wendell Huffman"

I notice a "library" on an 1880s era plat of Wadsworth, Nevada. The coloration of the symbol for the structure [blue] and its location adjacent to the railroad across the tracks from the locomotive facilities suggests that this library was railroad property.  

Is there evidence that the Central Pacific established and maintained libraries?  

If company-established and maintained, were these for employees, passengers, and/or residents of the adjacent town?  

Further, if company-established, how common were these?  

Surprisingly, libraries appear to not be mentioned in Richard Orsi’s Sunset Limited. I believe there were company libraries under Harriman, but this question focuses on the pre-Harriman era.  

Wendell W. Huffman
Curator of History
Nevada State Railroad Museum
2180 South Carson Street
Carson City, NV 89701
(775) 687-8291 v
(775) 687-8294 f


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


It very well may have been a railroad employees reading room. These were relatively commonplace facilities in larger industries. The lumber industry, too, often employed a "library" within or nearby the mill employee dormitory or dining hall; Union Lumber Company established one at their Fort Bragg, CA mill around 1890 and maintained it well into the 1930s, if not later.
These rooms were typically equipped with industry-friendly periodicals and newspapers; there were sporadic criticisms in some California and Pacific Northwest newspapers and lumber trade periodicals that sought to get lumber firms to permit periodicals that advertised labor-friendly and craft unions information, but this was just as often staunchly fought by those corporations which were traditionally and fiercely anti-union. In Fort Bragg's case, because it was not a pure "company town" as so many other places were, a free public library was eventually built that permitted a broader spectrum of reading materials t all, but I don't think FBPL was ever one endowed or sponsored by Andrew Carnegie as part of his effort to assure literacy in a wide host of US towns and cities.
In the railroad-sponsored libraries, a working man  in search of ways to better himself and his craft might presumably also find at least a modest range of technical journals and publications, including texts like McShane's The Locomotive Up to Date and Angus Sinclair's Development of the Locomotive Engine and Locomotive Engine Running & Management.

1/29/2007 9:30 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


I've come across references to reading rooms and such like at major terminals such as Wadsworth – something for layover crews to do besides go to the bar and drink. In addition to the types of literature that Kevin mentions, I believe there would have been some of the correspondence school books. The railroad was all for employees bettering themselves, and sought to encourage and support that.

Railroad YMCAs also provided such things as reading rooms – or perhaps they were one and the same as the "library" which started this discussion.

I don't think Dick Orsi touched on any subjects that would have included the reading rooms/libraries.


1/30/2007 7:37 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


I have run across "reading rooms" but not libraries. I believe this was a common practice, late nineteenth century – provide the worker with an alternative place to hang out other than the saloons and you get a more stable work force was the philosophy. Mining companies did this too. The building at Bisbee, Arizona which housed the Copper Queen company's 1880s library is now a National Historic Landmark and the city museum. I don't know if anyone has done a study of corporate libraries – pre-Andrew Carnegie libraries.


Bob Spude – Historian – Cultural Resources Management – National Park Service – Intermountain Region – 505.988.6770 Voice – 505.988.6876 Fax

The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.

1/30/2007 8:50 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Don Snoddy"

There are some good photos of the railroad reading rooms in Railway Age.


"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body.  But rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in hand, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO-HOO what a ride!"
Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.

1/30/2007 8:53 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "John Snyder"

Blue connotes concrete or reinforced concrete construction, rather than ownership.

—John Snyder

1/31/2007 3:45 PM  

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