After two independent library societies in historic Camden discontinued following the loss of their book collections, this public library was finally built 1915 with the support of a $5,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation. Founded in 1883 by business magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the Carnegie Foundation established libraries all over the world. From 1883 through 1929, 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built and made available to the public – 1,689 in the United States alone. The Camden library was one of 14 Carnegie libraries built in South Carolina.
In 1805 New Englander Abraham Blanding, a law student who relocated to Camden for school, formed the Camden Library Society. The club was a private, all-male organization that held meetings in various buildings around town. In 1820 members paid $12,000 for the library of Chancellor De Saussure, but by 1851 the impressive collection of volumes had been depleted to only 742 due to careless use. As a result, the society disassembled.
The town continued without a library – public or private – until 1900 when the Camden Library Association, a subscription library, was formed. Sadly, this library was destroyed by fire in 1912. The loss of this library was the impetus for Camden resident Mrs. E.C. Von Truckow to apply for a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. The town received funds from the non-profit organization, and along with annual support from the city, this library was built. The structure was designed by renowned South Carolina architect and Hartsville native Charles Coker Wilson, known for his work on many prominent buildings, including the South Carolina State House. Also of note is the library’s first board of trustees, which included women.
By 1936 a Works Projects Administration initiative had constructed an additional library building for Kershaw County. Over time, people expressed desire to merge the county and city libraries, and in 1970 a library merger resolution was adopted by the city of Camden and by Kershaw County. A new library was built in 1973 to serve the county. The Carnegie library building then became the Camden Archives and Museum building.
The Camden Carnegie Library is listed in the National Register within the Camden Historic District:
Architecturally and militarily significant, Camden was a center of activity in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and its architecture reflects the two centuries of its growth. The city was named in honor of Lord Camden, British champion of colonial rights. In 1774 wide streets were laid off in a grid pattern. The town expanded northward as shown in a 1798 plat. The plat set aside six parks which formed the basis for the city’s present 178 acres of beautiful parkland. Most of the original town was destroyed by the fire of 1813. This accelerated growth northward to the Kirkwood area, north of Chesnut Street. Originally, the houses in this area were summer cottages, but by 1840 Kirkwood was a year-round residential area of handsome mansions and elaborate gardens. Many of the mansions were built around the cottages, which still survive at their core. Contributing properties are mostly residential but also include public buildings, a church, and a cemetery. Camden’s architecture is classically inspired and includes examples of Federal and Classical Revival, in addition to cottage-type, Georgian, Charleston-type with modifications, and mansion-type houses. Several of the city’s buildings were designed by noted architect Robert Mills.