Eckhart Carriage Company, the roots of the Auburn Automobile Company, had been thriving for more than a quarter century when civic leaders in Charles Eckhart’s town began discussing the need for a public library.
Mr. Eckhart headed the committee that started a reading room in 1898. Over the next decade, he worked with other concerned citizens to establish a public library, and the group received a commitment of $12,500 from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to build one.
In Mr. Eckhart’s view, that wasn’t enough to give Auburn the library it deserved. He put a new offer on the table: If the Carnegie grant could be canceled, and the task put into Eckhart’s hands, he’d build the library with his own funds. His gift, he declared, would be “not for any particular class or group, but for every citizen of Auburn.”
Ultimately, he spent more than $40,000 on the building, which was dedicated in January 1911. The library building, designed by Patton & Miller of Chicago, belongs within the Arts and Crafts architectural movement. Its exterior walls of Bedford stone and salt-glazed brick and distinctive green-tiled roofs were described by The Evening Dispatch as “the best that money can buy.” Mr. Eckhart labored over his gift to the community, overseeing every detail, down to the colors in the stained-glass windows and the iron fountain in the adjacent park.
Mr. Eckhart died in 1915 with his library still in its infancy. A century later, the library has been expanded and renovated, and its campus has grown to include the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center, the Willennar Administrative Annex, and the Third Place Teen Library.
In the progressive spirit of Charles Eckhart, Eckhart Public Library strives not to be a monument to the past, but a dynamic, forward-thinking public necessity. We hope Mr. Eckhart, who so valued intellectual enrichment and community spirit, would appreciate his name and likeness overseeing this online forum, the seeds of which were planted more than a century ago.