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The history of The Carnegie in Edgartown

Ahearn and the renovation team faced a number of challenges in the rebuilding process. The old library was dark, and it suffered from an addition that had been tacked on in the 1960s. “This was poorly done,” says Ahearn, “and the basement, which held the children’s library, was moldy and pretty grim.” To make better use of the footprint, Ahearn reimagined that the building had been larger to begin with, “as if Carnegie had begun with a bigger program.” New arched openings and opened-up windows made the space much lighter. “We preserved the essence of what was there—the library—but then the building unfolds to a participatory map of the island that highlights Vineyard Trust properties,” Ahearn says. “It’s no longer stagnant.” 

One of the most dramatic changes to The Carnegie is the rectangular cutout in the floor, which lines up with a skylight. Bordered by a glass railing, this links a gallery below with the one on the main floor. Suspended above this opening is the wooden upside-down skeleton of a rescue boat that had been discovered in a Vineyard marsh. Ahearn says, “It’s almost like in the Museum of Natural History in New York—that’s our dinosaur.” 

This year, The Carnegie will offer a number of events and programs, including poetry readings, author events, concerts, and two series called “Meet the Maker” and “Be the Maker.” Ahearn notes: “The Carnegie is in the village core, opposite the ferry line going to Chappaquiddick, and it’s an important ingredient in walking the village. It celebrates the work of Vineyard Trust but also tells the story of the island in a new and different way.” At the same time, this historic landmark of Edgartown continues to indirectly tell one of its initial stories. It may no longer lend books, but the building maintains its original spirit with its reading rooms, and it most certainly carries forward the vision of its namesake, Andrew Carnegie, well into the 21st century.

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