Volume 12

The Restoration of the Old Carnegie Library at Thames

Anne Stewart Ball and Kae Lewis Photographs Evan Lewis and Chris Ball

With the energy, synergy and input from many in the Community and the leadership of The Coromandel Heritage Trust, the Thames Coromandel District Council completed the restorations to the old Carnegie Free Library in Thames ten years ago. On 12 September 2009, a special public celebration was held to mark the opening of the newly restored Carnegie Library as The Treasury. Now operated by The Coromandel Heritage Trust, The Treasury is an archive that conserves and stores the heritage records for the districts of Thames, Coromandel Peninsula and Hauraki and provides a facility for those doing heritage or genealogical research.

Heritage of The Carnegie Free Library in Thames

The Thames Carnegie Library was the second of eighteen libraries that were built in New Zealand in the 1900s with the generous gift of Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie, an industrialist, who had emigrated with his parents from Dunfermline, Scotland in 1848 to Allegheny, Pennsylvania, USA. There, Carnegie rose out of the poor circumstances that his immigrant family had arrived in. With opportunity shining, hard work, application and true business acumen, he made a huge fortune in steel, railroads, bridges and oil derricks. Having made his fortune, the second part of Carnegie’s life was spent giving it all away to philanthropic causes he believed in. Amongst these was the offer of a free public library in any city of the English-speaking world. With this offer went a few terms and conditions:– any councils taking it up had to provide a site for a Carnegie Free Library and a building of good standard, provide ongoing funding and maintenance, and with the books to remain free to those borrowing them. Another philanthropic cause that Carnegie believed in and gifted endowments to was World Peace. When Carnegie died in 1919, nearly all of the huge fortune had been given away.

Thames, New Zealand was a gold-mining town first established in 1867. It was also the home of two large engineering firms, established in 1868 – Messrs A & G Prices and Chas Judd, both of which were initially manufacturing equipment for goldmining and timber milling. The A & G Price Foundary later specialised in rolling stock and locomotives for railways and the timber industry. As a bustling industrial town, Thames was indeed an appropriate site for a Carnegie Library.

The library was established in Thames in 1905 by the then Thames Borough Council, with the assistance of a generous £2000 gift from Andrew Carnegie.

A new Carnegie Library: The Thames new Public Library, towards which Mr Carnegie donated £2000.
Auckland Weekly News 21 September 1905. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19050921-14-9

Laying the foundation stone of the new Public Library, Thames, the Hon. J. McGowan (Minister for Mines) performing the ceremony April 6, 1905
Auckland Weekly News 13 April 1905. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-190413-3-1.

The contract for building the original Library was gained by Lye and Sons. The first foundation stone being laid by James McGowan, the then Minister of Justice and Minister of Mines who was also elected Representative of the Thames electorate in that era.

The original Public Library of Thames next to Mrs Grey's House. Photo taken several days before the building was removed to make way for the new Carnegie Library to be built in brick in 1904.
Source: The Treasury Collection.

The foundation stone on the front facade of the Carnegie library, laid by James McGowan in 1905.

Details of the Corinthian columns on the old Carnegie Library.

The building of this library (to the design of Architect J. Currie) was unusually constructed of brick, with its decorative facade similar to the other eighteen Carnegie Libraries built in New Zealand at the time. With the hills of the Coromandel covered in forest, and many sawmills then in operation, timber was the most common building material being used in Thames at the time. Inside the new builing, they installed the pressed metal ceilings and wide wooden skirting board typical of that era in New Zealand. To keep those Library users warm, fireplaces were built in each room. Another departure from the norm for Thames was that there were plenty of large windows, letting in the light for the readers.

Located close to the commercial area of Grahamstown, it was sited not far from the thriving engineering firm of Messrs A & G Price. The Carnegie Free Library operated here until 1990 when the Library relocated to new larger premises closer to the centre of the new town of Thames. However the old building remained in various community usages until Thames Coromandel District Council made the decision to upgrade rather than demolish it.

Restoration of The Carnegie Free Library, Thames, New Zealand

The restoration project began during the summer of 2008 and was to include bringing the building up to current New Zealand Earthquake standards, repair of the roof, rewiring and renewal of the plumbing where needed.

The front facade of the Carnegie Library taken early in 2008, just prior to the beginning of the restoration project.

The front facade of the Carnegie Library taken in October 2008, during the restoration project.

The Treasury Research Centre and Archive as it is today.

Restoration of the interior of the Carnegie Library.

A contract tender was let to Partridge Construction BOP Ltd which led to The old Carnegie Library becoming a hive of activity over the next few months.

The reading room of the old Carnegie Library as it was immediately prior to restoration, 2008.

The reading room of the old Carnegie Library immediately prior to restoration, 2008.

The entrance hall with its heritage tiles, as it was immediately prior to restoration, 2008.

The conference room before restoration began.

Restoration of heritage floor tiles, metal ceilings and the fittings.

Every detail of the original library was retored with great care and attention to details. This included all the walls, the large windows, wide wooden skirting boards, pressed metal ceilings, ornate plaster mouldings, light fittings, heritage floor tiling, the original gas fittings, fireplaces and ceramic light fittings.

A hallway with heritage tiles just before restoration began.

The restroom with heritage tiles just before it was lovingly restored.

The pressed metal ceiling panels were in poor condition.

One of several pressed metal ceilings before restoration.

The ornate pressed metal ceiling panels and plaster mouldings.

An ornate light fitting in the pressed metal ceiling panels before restoration.

There was much to be done on restoring all the woodwork including this door with its ornate brass handle.

The entire electrical system was in urgent need of modernising, as the old fuse box will testify.

At one time in the past (probably when it was first built in 1905) the Carnegie Library was fitted with gas-fired lighting. Many of the gas outlets are still in place.

As part of the process of bringing the building up to current New Zealand Earthquake standards, the strength of the brick structure was thoroughly tested. The engineers found some brick at this site failed at 5000psi force. They then replaced or strengthen the walls as needed

The progress was followed by a community who had grown to love this building which had been an integral part of Thames for so long. It was a Thames icon. For those with a passion for Heritage and Family Genealogy, there was a growing excitement. It became the future home of The Treasury Research Centre and Archive, run by The Coromandel Heritage Trust to store the heritage records of the Thames, Coromandel and Hauraki Districts.

Public Opening Day for a restored Carnegie Free Library Building and The Treasury

At long last, the restorations were completed. The Public Opening Day of a restored Heritage Building occurred on 12th September 2009, just as there was a Public Opening Ceremony 104 years ago when the Carnegie Free Library was first opened. Many entered into the spirit of the day, with the vintage cars display, costumes from days gone by, the Thames Lions Club, Thames Citizens Band, The Riverside Jazz Band and a Harpist all celebrating with the public. Many brought along written historical records from their families and communities to add to the new Archives collection.

The special guest at the opening ceremony was Dame Anne Salmond (a New Zealand anthropologist, environmentalist and writer) who spoke of the relevance of the new archives, The Treasury being:-

A place of memory linking the stories to place and landscapes, and providing a connection with place.

Dame Anne Salmond then cut the ribbon, signifying the reopening of this restored historic building, and the new home of The Treasury. Deacon Harry Dalton blessed the restored building and its new purpose. With the Carnegie Free Library revitalised, it is now moving into the future as a place where all can visit to read about and research those past heritage and family genealogy links.

Thames Militia Band at the Public Celebrations, Thames, 12 September 2009.
Dame Anne Salmond cutting the ribbon at the restored Carnegie Free Library, now The Treasury.
12 September 2009.

The public opening ceremony - some dressed for the occasion as in days gone by.
Thames 12 September 2009.

The Mayor of Thames, P. Barriball unveiling the restored photograph of Andrew Carnegie that now hangs in The Treasury.

Amongst the written stories and records of the area’s past, there are many tales to tell of the hardships, the travel, the industries and the communities of the entire Coromandel Peninsula and Hauraki Plains. The people who came from other places and other lands to put new roots down in a new place must tell their stories to future generations. The linkages that are stored here will give future generations a connection to people and places around the world.

The front hallway of The Carnegie Library just prior to restoration.

The front hallway of The Carnegie Library as it is today, the reception area for The Treasury Research Centre and Archive. The photograph of Andrew Carnegie hangs on the wall on the left hand side, above the receptionist.

The reading room with its restored woodwork, windows, fireplace, ceiling and light fittings. Photo taken in October 2009.

The restored conference room being prepared for a display of photographs from The Treasury Collection for Heritage Week 2018.

Chairman of The Coromandel Heritage Trust, Morrie Dunwoodie and his wife Geraldine working at the computer station in the restored reading room at The Treasury.

Throughout 2008-9, and onwards for many years, Geraldine and Morrie Dunwoodie led a huge army of volunteers who lovingly restored the old Carnegie Library to form part of the Treasury Research Center and Archive as it stands today. It is a credit to all the volunteers, and especially to Geraldine and Morrie Dunwoodie.


  1. THE TREASURY PROJECT by Geraldine Dunwoodie in THE TREASURY JOURNAL Vol 12 (2019).
  2. The Treasury website: Home of The Coromandel Heritage Trust (covering the Coromandel Peninsula).
  3. The Treasury Journal: A place for the stories and research of Thames Coromanandel.
  4. Andrew Carnegie. The Carnegie Corporation of New York.
  5. Dame Mary Anne Salmond DBE FRSNZ

This article formed part of an article by Anne Stewart Ball that first appeared on the Electric Scotland website.


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