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History of the Rosenberg Library

Rosenberg Library has offered over a century of community service to the Galveston area. The building itself was dedicated on June 22, 1904, the birthday of its patron, Henry Rosenberg. The Moody Memorial Wing opened in 1971, more than doubling the floor space and allowing for a children’s library, a history center, several galleries to showcase museum collections, and later, a computer lab.

Successor to the Galveston Mercantile Library, which was founded in 1871, Rosenberg Library is the oldest public library in Texas in continuous operation. With funding provided through a bequest from Henry Rosenberg, the Rosenberg Library Association was organized pursuant to a charter granted by the State of Texas on July 10, 1900, as a private corporation to give free library service to all Galvestonians. Since its incorporation the institution has been governed by a board of twenty trustees, who meet annually to elect a nine-member board of directors.

A plot of land at the northwest corner of Tremont and Sealy was purchased for $18,500 on May 15, 1901, on which to erect the building. The Board of Directors employed Alfred F. Rosenheim of St. Louis as a consulting architect in a competition for the design of the building amongst Ackerman & Ross of New York, Eames & Young of St. Louis, Thomas H. Kimball of Omaha, and local Galveston architects. Two local architects, George B. Stowe and Conlon & Koeppe, were awarded prizes of $250 each for their designs, but the award for the work was ultimately given to Eames & Young for a “fire-proof building with two stories and basement, to cost $100,000, the building to contain rooms for the usual library departments with a capacity of 60,000 volumes, and also to contain a lecture hall to seat 500 or more people.” The construction of the building was contracted to Harry Devlin of Galveston, at a final cost of $155,000.

Henry RosenbergRosenberg Library officially opened for inspection June 22, 1904, Henry Rosenberg’s birthday, and to the public the following day. A year later it absorbed the collections of the Galveston Public Library, thus formalizing its new role as the public library for the city of Galveston.

The Galveston and Texas History Center, for example, collects materials relating to Galveston and early Texas. Major manuscript collections include the papers of Samuel May Williams, Gail Borden, John Grant Tod, Jr., and James Morgan; the records of several nineteenth and early twentieth-century businesses, including those of Harris Kempner, Henry M. Trueheart, and J. C. League; the records of several organizations and churches in the area; and twentieth-century collections reflecting recent events and activities in Galveston and the upper Gulf Coast.

Above text regarding the library history was taken from “ROSENBERG LIBRARY” – The Handbook of Texas Online

On September 13, 2008, the Rosenberg Library was inundated with floodwaters during Hurricane Ike, the most destructive hurricane to hit the island since the Great Storm of 1900. Fortunately, the building did not sustain any structural damage, as an extensive repair project on the exterior had just been completed in July of that year for which it received a Galveston Historical Foundation Sally B. Wallace Preservation Award.

Immediately following the hurricane, the library underwent various renovations to its operational systems that had been vulnerable to flood damage. This was followed by new, more energy-efficient, interior lighting and some needed flooring on the third and fourth floors of the Moody Wing. In the summer of 2010, two years after the storm, further restoration of the building’s interior was undertaken to return the Rosenberg Wing to its original style and beauty.

We are very proud of our island treasure and thank you, our patrons, for being a part of it.

Website Header - Exterior of Rosenberg Library

About Henry Rosenberg (1824 – 1893)

Young Henry RosenbergHenry Rosenberg, Galveston business leader and philanthropist, was born in Bilten, Glarus Canton, Switzerland, on June 22, 1824, to Johann Rudolf and Waldburg (Blum) Rosenberg. With limited educational opportunities, he went to work at seventeen in a textile factory, where he and John Hessly, the son of his employer, became friends. Rosenberg followed Hessly to Galveston, Texas, where he arrived in February 1843 to work as a clerk in Hessly’s dry-goods store. He purchased half interest in the store and acquired the remainder in three years’ time, then built it into the leading dry-goods store in the state by 1859.

Birthplace of HenryRosenberg became a financier and investor and was active in banking, real estate, and transportation. In 1866 he was appointed vice-consul of Switzerland for the state of Texas. He became Swiss consul three years later and held that position until his death. He began banking as a director of the First National Bank of Galveston in 1868 and expanded his interests in 1871, when he became president of the Galveston City Railroad Company. He was appointed city alderman the same year and served until 1872 as chairman of the licenses and assessments committee. He served a second term from 1885 to 1887 and chaired the finance and revenue committee. He twice served on the city library committee. He helped organize the Galveston Bank and Trust Company in 1874 and served as its president and manager. After buying out the other stockholders, he continued the bank under the name of H. Rosenberg, Banker, and functioned as its sole stockholder.

Home of Henry RosenbergRosenberg was also president of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway Company from 1874 to 1877, during which time the company laid its first fifty miles of track. He served as vice president of the Galveston Wharf Company from 1889 until his death. He was a vestryman of Trinity Episcopal Church from 1868 to 1883; he contributed about half the cost of construction of Eaton Memorial Chapel in 1882. He withdrew his membership in 1884 and became active in Grace Church. In 1886 he donated the Rosenberg Free School to the city of Galveston. Rosenberg married Letitia Cooper of Virginia on June 11, 1851. She died on June 4, 1888. He married Mollie Ragan Macgill (see ROSENBERG, MOLLIE) of Hagerstown, Maryland, on November 13, 1889. Both marriages were childless. Rosenberg died at Galveston on May 12, 1893, and was buried in Ludon Park Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

Rosenberg’s civic contributions were not fully realized until after his death. His will provided bequests to family and friends, followed by bequests to various charitable and religious causes. Allotted in his will were $30,000 each to the Galveston Orphans’ Home, Grace Episcopal Church, Letitia Rosenberg Women’s Home and a fund to put seventeen drinking fountains “for man and beast” around Galveston. Rosenberg’s will also provided $65,000 for the construction of a building for the Galveston Young Men’s Christian Association and $50,000 for erection of a heroes’ monument commemorating the Texas Revolution. All of these projects were completed between 1895 and 1900. The rest of Rosenberg’s estate, more than $600,000, provided for a free public library for the people of Galveston, the first free public library in the state.

Above text regarding Henry Rosenberg was taken from “ROSENBERG, HENRY” – The Handbook of Texas Online

Foreword to the publication Henry Rosenberg, 1824 – 1893: to commemorate the gifts of Henry Rosenberg to Galveston

Foreword to the publication Henry Rosenberg, 1824 – 1893: to commemorate the gifts of Henry Rosenberg to Galveston. Rosenberg Library or Online at Google Books

Learn more about the Rosenberg Library’s rich history through this short video.

“Why 3 public libraries claim to be the oldest in Texas.”