Then & Now


The lovely red brick building with the white Doric columns has stood on Kearny Ave. since 1907, housing the main branch of the still-vibrant Kearny Public Library. Today’s structure features an addition at the rear, but the central portion is much as it looked more than 100 years ago. From the clothing of the people in the ‘Then’ picture, and the fact that it is from a penny-postcard printed in Germany, we surmise that the image dates, if not to the same year the library opened, then not long afterward. Kearny’s was one of 34 free public libraries built in New Jersey from 1900 to 1917 with funding from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, whose philanthropic foundation would eventually help construct more than 2,500 worldwide. 

Kearny’s Carnegie library must have had very special meaning to local residents, since so many of them were Scottish immigrants, as Carnegie himself had been. Born in a oneroom cottage in Dunfermline, Fife, in 1835, he came to the U.S. with his parents in 1848. That year, at age 13, he took his fi rst job, working 12 hours a day, six days a week, in a  Pittsburgh cotton mill for $1.20 per week. When he died in 1919, his net worth was estimated at nearly $300 billion (yes, billion) in today’s in today’s dollars. See what a little literacy can do?

– Karen Zautyk 

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