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