Free Library of Philadelphia, Thomas Holme Branch, 7810 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA
Significance: Completed in 1906, the Thomas Holme Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia was the fifth of twenty-five branch libraries built through an endowment from industrialist-turned-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The impact of Carnegie's grant program on the development of public libraries cannot be overstated. He came of age in an era when libraries were rare, privately funded institutions and access was through subscription. Believing in the power of libraries to create an egalitarian society that favored hard work over social privilege by allowing equal access to knowledge, between 1886 and 1917 he provided forty million dollars for the construction of 1,679 libraries throughout the nation. The vast resources that he allotted to library research and construction contributed significantly to the development of the American Library as a building type. In addition, by insisting that municipalities supply a building site, books, and annual maintenance funds before bestowing grants Carnegie elevated libraries from the arena of private philanthropy to that of civic responsibility.
Philadelphia was the recipient of one of the largest Carnegie grants for library construction. Although the city was among the first to establish a free library system, it had no purpose-built structures prior to the Carnegie endowment. The branch libraries were built between 1905 and 1930, under the direction of the city appointed Carnegie Fund Committee, and designed by a "who's-who" of Philadelphia's architects. The twenty extant branch libraries remain as a remarkable intact and cohesive grouping, rivaled only by that of New York City, with fifty-seven. The Thomas Holme Branch was designed by architect Horace W. Castor, of the firm of Sterns & Castor, and is the quintessential Carnegie branch library. It follows the almost formulaic model that came to define Carnegie Libraries nationwide, consisting of a Beaux Arts style, brick structure in a T-shaped configuration. Thomas Holme is the smallest of the Philadelphia branch libraries, yet no less distinctive in its detailing. The library is named for William Penn's surveyor general, who was given this land as payment for his services in laying out the town of Philadelphia. The lot was donated by the local Lower Dublin Academy through an endowment established by the Holme family for educational purposes. While originally providing for a school, a library was considered by the trustees and the community to be a significant educational contribution, a concept shared by the Carnegie Corporation.
Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N1446
Survey number: HABS PA-6754
Building/structure dates: 1906 Initial Construction