Snohomish’s Carnegie building is practically complete

Snohomish city project manager Brennan Collins (yellow coat) talks with a member of the construction crew in front of the Carnegie building at First Street and Cedar Avenue while work continues during one of the few dry days in mid-November.

Snohomish city project manager Brennan Collins (yellow coat) talks with a member of the construction crew in front of the Carnegie building at First Street and Cedar Avenue while work continues during one of the few dry days in mid-November.
Doug Ramsay

SNOHOMISH —  After a tedious process spanning over a decade, including a number of grants and three master plans, the Carnegie building in the historic Snohomish Downtown is almost fully restored. Now 110 years old, the building still stands on Cedar Avenue, nearly identical to the original building constructed in 1910.
The Carnegie Public Library in Snohomish was originally funded by the national Carnegie Foundation, which funded public libraries across the country from 1886 to 1923. The building served the community as a library for nearly a century until 2003, when the current Snohomish public library was built on Maple Avenue.
From 2003 to 2017, the Carnegie building served as a community space, being rented out by the city for events until it was deemed unsafe for use. In that time the city held public hearings and created three different master plans for the future of the Carnegie building.
In the multiple public hearings, many ideas were offered up. Although some suggested demolishing the Carnegie building to construct a parking lot, it was clear the majority of the community wanted to restore the building for public use.
City project manager Brennan Collins began working on the Carnegie restoration in November of 2019 and said he was not at the hearings but knows “it was overwhelmingly in favor of restoring the Carnegie to what it was in 1910.”
Restoration on the Carnegie building began with two crucial components: a seismic retrofitting and a new roof. In order to make the building safe for public use, it had to be upgraded to current earthquake codes which included a new roof.
Snohomish Carnegie Foundation chair Melody Clemans said in order to even begin the seismic retrofitting, a study of the property had to be done.
The annex, which was added in 1968 for additional space, was also removed after finding it to be cheaper than attempting to restore it. The building was also made ADA accessible in the process and painted to match the original building as close as possible which included exposing four “printer’s marks” or “publisher’s marks” made from decorative tiles. The printer’s marks, located under the roofline on the west side of the building, were fully restored by removing multiple layers of paint.
Clemans has lived in Snohomish her entire life and said she never remembered seeing the marks.
“When I was growing up, which is a long time ago, they were still painted over,” Clemans said. “My sister is 10 years older than me and I asked her, ‘Have you ever seen those tiles and the printers marks revealed?’ and she said ‘no,’ and she was a child of the Depression.”
Printer’s marks, the signature of a publisher for the earliest of books, were often used as decoration for educational buildings like libraries in the 1800s and early 1900s, including the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C.
A letter written in 1910 from the architecture firm involved, addressed to the Secretary of Library Board in Snohomish, depicts the marks and their meanings.
“The marks used in the Snohomish Library were chosen partly to indicate the cosmopolitan character of the American people and their literature: the French (Janot) and Dutch (Leen) marks being chosen more because they adapted themselves more easily to the decorative use and not because of any feeling that the Spanish, German, or Italian elements in our composition were less evident. Two English marks were chosen because perhaps we still feel Anglo-Saxon,” the letter reads.
It went on to explain the most noteworthy mark of the four displayed. Farthest to the right is the mark of William Caxton, the man who first printed the Bible in English.
Clemans said the marks wouldn’t have been exposed if it wasn’t for Collins finding a solution for restoring the tiles to their original glory.

Jake Berg photo

Printer’s marks for William Caxton on the Carnegie building.

The City Council plans to discuss the Carnegie operations plan at the council meeting on Dec. 1. City administrator Steve Schuller said no dates or official plans have been set but the city has been thinking about holding a “rotating” open house, allowing people to view the inside of the restored Carnegie building while keeping the number of people low.