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Carnegie Library soon to be reincarnated; Local Realtor and architect announce ambitious plans to restore decaying historic building

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Demolition can be seen on west side of the old Carnegie Library, which faces North Richardson Avenue at West Third Street. As part of the restoration, a new main entrance will be built on the west side that will be handicap accessible. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)

Not long ago,  Sherlea Taylor, a local Realtor, said a friend told her the only thing “historic” about the old Carnegie Library was the “for sale” sign out front.

Her friend was being sarcastic, of course, because the small but stately building had been listed by Taylor’s family business, Ranchline Taylor & Taylor Realtors, for years and years.

Taylor said everyone she showed the building to — which was built in 1906 by the Roswell Women’s Club after receipt of a grant from the Carnegie Foundation — agreed it was a nice-looking place. The problem was finding a buyer who was willing to invest the money necessary to restore the decaying stone structure at 123 W. Third St. near the intersection of North Richardson Avenue.

In October, Sherlea’s youngest son Todd told the Roswell Daily Record that he had sold the building, but did not disclose the buyer.

In an interview with the Roswell Daily Record last week, Taylor ended the mystery when she told the newspaper she is the new owner.

“I am the owner and the developer,” Taylor said.

Taylor said she purchased the building from her oldest son, Paul Taylor III, who bought the property in 2004 from Larry and Cindy Marker, according to county records. The property consists of 7,425 square feet of land and 9,156 square feet of building, according to county property records.

Taylor said she plans to turn the old library into a boutique, hotel and restaurant.

To help turn her vision into reality, Taylor has recruited a kindred spirit with local architect Donald Daugherty, who has a background in historical restorations.

“I had an idea and he put it on paper,” she said.

The hotel will have three guest rooms, each with its own theme, Taylor said.

“This will be a great addition to Roswell,” she said. “The gift shop will sell things that will remind people of Roswell. I want this to be a convenient place for people to visit.”

One of the biggest challenges to reopening the old building is making it ADA compliant. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by Congress in 1990. The current entrance on West Third Street is about 5 feet above the sidewalk and can only be accessed by stairs.

Daugherty said the new entrance will be on the west side. A wheelchair ramp will begin on the Third Street side of the building, then work its way behind a 6-foot-tall outdoor wall that will enclose a terrace, eventually leading up to a door on the Richardson Avenue side.

Another issue was the foundation. Daugherty said that roof drainage cascading down over the decades from the building’s corner at Richardson and Third made the ground underneath become very soggy. Over time, that corner sagged from the building’s weight. Cracks can be seen near the top of outside walls that were caused by the sagging.

“It was sadly neglected,” Daugherty said.

The foundation was recently repaired by Childers Brothers Inc. of Amarillo, Texas, a contractor that specializes in foundation repair.

Daugherty said because the water table under the building is so high, piers had to be buried 43 feet into the ground to stabilize the building.

The outdoor wall will not only hide the wheelchair ramp, but also surround an outdoor dining area. Daugherty guessed that the indoor seating capacity should be in the 50 to 60 range while the terrace should seat between 30 to 40 people.

Taylor and Daugherty agreed that the business should open in around nine months.

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh said he is optimistic about the restoration project.

“That building has sat empty for way too long,” he said. “It’s a fascinating structure and I give Sherlea a lot of credit for investing in it and doing something with it. I think she will have clientele from tourists and people working downtown.”

Building has a long history

The building has gone through many changes through the years. It was expanded in 1952, adding 2,000 square feet to the original structure.

According to various accounts, the Carnegie Library building has been expanded and renovated a few times in its history. It served as Roswell’s public library until 1978, when the library’s location on North Pennsylvania Avenue was established. Roswell’s Carnegie Library was one of only three such libraries in the state. The one in Las Vegas continues to serve as a library, while the building in Raton has been demolished.

Local memories of the Carnegie

Re-purposing the old library as a restaurant is not a new idea. The Carnegie was opened as a fine-dining establishment by Vannie Graves in the early 1980s.

Rick Kraft, local attorney and newspaper columnist, said he met his wife-to-be, Tanya, outside of the restaurant.

“In August of 1983, I worked at the J.P. White Building,” he said. “I walked down Third Street and walked by the Carnegie Library on the way to my car and stopped to say ‘hi’ to some people. They introduced me to Tanya Johnson. I sat down for a few minutes to talk and went back home not knowing I would marry her someday.”

Kraft said he was dating someone else at that time, but they broke up. He asked someone for Johnson’s phone number and they started dating.

The day before he planned to propose to Johnson, Feb. 13, 1984, Kraft said he had lunch at the restaurant with Johnson’s father, telling him of his intentions to ask his daughter for her hand in marriage.

Kraft said the father gave his blessing, so the next day, Valentine’s Day, he had dinner with Johnson at Tinnie Mercantile in Hondo Valley and popped the question.

Janice Dunnahoo, a lifelong resident and historian, has fond memories of the Carnegie Library as well.

“When I was really, really small, my mother and brother would walk to town about a mile and a half. This was before my mother drove,” she told the Daily Record in 2014. “We would shop downtown and get my brother’s hair cut at the barbershop. Then we would stop at the library before going home. The kids’ library was in the basement; it was always cooler there.”

Why restore such an old building?

Daugherty said the old Carnegie Library is special and must be preserved.

“It has details we can’t design today,” he said. “We don’t have the craftsmanship or money.”

He added that he can feel a presence from the past when he walks into old buildings like the Carnegie.

Even after the Carnegie is restored and beautifully furnished, the most important things will remain the same.

The original exterior, floors and large windows remain as a testament to American generosity, acknowledgment of education and the impact women had on building our country.

Editor’s note: Senior reporter Lisa Dunlap and freelance writer DJ Porter contributed to this story.

Community News reporter Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or vistas@rdrnews.com.