Carnegie Library- Richmond Hill


November 2014, Volume 11, Number 2

In This Issue:

  • History of the Queens Library System
  • Six to Celebrate Queens Carnegie Library- Richmond Hill
  •  Campaign to Save the Carnegie Libraries


History of the Queens Library System



The genesis of the Queens library corporation was the Long Island City Public Library, established from the collection of William Nelson in 1896.  After the consolidation of the five boroughs into Greater New York in 1898, the library was known as the Queens Borough Library, and was responsible for the entire borough.  Independent libraries such as Flushing (demolished), Poppenhusen and Richmond Hill merged with the new municipal library, and were eventually housed in Carnegie buildings.  The Queens Borough Library acquired its current name, the Queens Borough Public Library, in 1907.  Similar to the Brooklyn Public Library, the Queens system was an independent corporation whose trustees were appointed by the mayor and whose staff was in the civil service.  Of the seven Carnegie Branches constructed in Queens, five remain and continue to operate.

The New York City Carnegie branch libraries were designed to be distinct structures, a new concept at the turn of the Twentieth Century when most branches were simply located in other buildings.  They were intended to be important fixtures in the community and centrally located in a neighborhood.  The Carnegie Committee had a policy to locate branches in close proximity to public buildings such as schools, social service centers, public baths, or YM/YWCA’s.  The Richmond Hill Branch has played this civic role in Richmond Hill for over a century. Today the library’s extensive lawn is used for community celebrations and holiday events.



Queens Carnegie Library, Richmond Hill Branch

Richmond Hill Branch, front façade on Hillside Avenue, n.d.

Richmond Hill Branch, front façade on Hillside Avenue, n.d.

The building, designed by Tuthill & Higgins, architects in 1905, is situated on a triangular lot bordered by Hillside Avenue, Lefferts Boulevard, and the elevated tracks of the Long Island Railroad running along Babbage Street. Tuthill & Higgins designed the Astoria Branch as well. The building has several characteristics of the suburban Carnegie library type. Located in the less densely populated areas of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens, these branches are most often freestanding structures within a larger lot.  Frequently, the libraries feature brick walls with limestone ornamentation. Typically built in a Classical Revival style, the buildings have a symmetrical layout, large windows to allow an abundance of light into the reading rooms, and a prominent, decorative entrance.

The Richmond Hill Branch continues to serve as a branch of the Queens Borough Public Library. Land for the site was purchased from William Man and Alrick N. Man ($12,000). Construction with equipment cost $32,659.20. At first, the library had a simple front lawn, and the building’s lot was not encircled by the present wrought iron and brick fences.  Judging from an early postcard, there originally was an ornate stone fountain installed on the Hillside Avenue side. The structure had three Ionic columns that supported a curvilinear entablature with a decorative stone vessel. Today, flagstone paths lead from the streets to the entrances and flower borders are planted along the fence.  In the 1990s, a new handicap access ramp with aluminum railing was installed in front of the main entry.

Originally, the branch consisted of a structure three bays wide and one bay deep that faced Hillside Avenue.  An addition using the same tan brick walls and stone ornament was constructed in 1929, which significantly expanded the facility.  This newer section, containing the Children’s Library, has an entrance on Lefferts Boulevard and an additional bay along Babbage Street. The historic tiled roof with ornate metal cresting was replaced with a standing seam metal roof in the 1960s.  All doors and windows have been replaced. The interior has gone through several renovations.  In 1985, new lit display shelves and a new circulation desk were installed.  The ceiling has been lowered, and the floors have been replaced with asphalt tile. Very few historic interior details remain.

William B. Tuthill of Tuthill & Higgins is most known for designing Carnegie Hall (1889-1891), built in the Renaissance Revival style with a Roman brick façade, the American Female Guardian Society (1901-2) in the West Bronx, the Morris and Laurette Schinasi House at 351 Riverside Drive (1907-09), and a group of row houses at 4-16 West 122nd Street (1888-9) in Harlem.

For the full list of the Queens Carnegie Libraries click here 

For additional information about the Richmond Hill branch click here 

For more information about Carnegie Libraries in NYC click here

For a list of Carnegie Libraries by borough click here 


Campaign to Preserve the Carnegie Libraries

Carnegie Library booklet

Starting in 2009, HDC initiated a survey to document the existing Carnegie Libraries throughout New York City. We visited each branch, taking new detailed exterior and interior photographs, documenting existing and historic conditions and researching the rich history of each location. If you are interested in documenting the NYC Carnegie Libraries as a Preservation Consultant click here.


Posted Under: E-bulletin, The Politics of Preservation

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