Then and Now
February 6, 2001
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by Tom McGehee
In 1901 the Mobile Library Association acquired this antebellum home at the northwest corner of Conti and Hamilton streets. It had been in the Krebs family as early as 1850 when Joseph Krebs whose occupation was listed as "farmer," appeared in the city directory. Conti Street was long a comfortable residential district convenient to the Dauphin Street shops a block to the north.
Mobile had a series of attempts at having a library throughout the 19th century. In 1835 the Franklin Society offered patrons books, a reading room and even exhibits of archeological subjects. The society finally disbanded in 1882 at which time their books were added to a circulating library operated by Miss Addie Moses. Her books were finally added to the library pictured here in 1916.
The library at first received no public funding and occupied only the east side of the structure. The remaining space was rented out to Minne Black, a music teacher, an artist named Bruce Christian and Mattie Garrett, a dressmaker. It was not until 1912 that the City of Mobile offered the tiny sum of $25.00 per month, which was finally increased to $50 in 1918.
At this time the association offered to turn the ownership of the building and its contents over to the city with the provision that Mobile accept $50,000 from industrialist Andrew Carnegie for the establishment of a modern public library. The city was in the midst of gladly receiving both when local labor unions loudly protested, citing Mr. Carnegie’s poor record of union support. Ultimately, Mobile politely declined the gift; Montgomery politely accepted.
A $250,000 bond issue was finally passed in 1926 to give Mobile the grand public library building still gracing Government Street today. The old library on Conti Street operated briefly as the Salvation Army Hotel at the end of the twenties. The building then vanished amid scant attention and has long since been replaced with the sad commercial structure still occupying the corner today.
Credit: Erik Overbey Collection.
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