Where would we be without libraries? These cozy cauldrons of knowledge have long served as refuges for inspiration, education, and creative exploration. St. Pete is home to a couple gorgeous libraries, but today I’m looking at the Mirror Lake Library, the ‘Burg’s own Carnegie landmark.
I gathered most of these details during one of Preserve the ‘Burg’s Historic Walking Tours. If you have even the faintest interest in local history, I highly recommend you sign up for one. But do it soon because these walks sell out.
A 5 year quest to bring a library to St. Pete
The initial quest to bring a library to the ‘Burg began in 1908 — and the pursuit lasted for several years. In 1913, thanks in large part to Annie McCrae, St. Petersburg received a $17,500 grant from the Carnegie Corporation to construct a library. This made the ‘Burg one of the select few cities to receive such a grant.
The city matched the grant and in 1915 the doors to the Mirror Lake gem officially opened.
St. Petersburg’s first librarian was Emma Moore Williams, she also happened to be the first English teacher at St. Pete High School. Her assistant, Margaret Jenkins, presided over St. Petersburg’s 4th Street Reading Room. Jenkins brought over 3,000 books from the space, though the facility itself was designed to house more than 16,000 volumes.
On the shoulders of Annie McCrae
In comes Annie McCrae again. She was a fierce advocate for the library, and published stories in the then St. Petersburg Times urging city officials to use tax dollars to fill out the library’s collection.
It was through the determination and passion of these St. Petersburg residents that we all can enjoy this wonderful Beaux-Arts style building today.
By the 1980s the building itself had fallen onto hard times. It was essentially in a state of disrepair. It would take nearly a decade for a full restoration and update to the space to complete. You can still walk into the 1915 wing of the library, which seems trapped in a lovely amber orb.
Restoration works maintains the 1915 wing
The restoration/construction was finished in 1997. The library expanded with an 8,000 square-foot addition designed to flow with the historic exterior and an elevator to make all levels handicap accessible.
It’s not just on my radar. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the summer of 1986.
Want to visit the Mirror Lake Library? You can find it at 253 5th Street North.
Learn more about St. Petersburg Libraries by visit the system’s official website.