In the very early 1900’s, 172 people of Tyler raised $2,000.00 for the purchase of the land for the location of a public library building. The Carnegie Library building, endowed by Andrew Carnegie, was opened in 1904 and served as Tyler’s library until 1980. The building was the first building in Tyler to have “running water”.
In the late 1970’s Tyler began a city project for a new, larger library to replace the historic Carnegie Library. The dedication of the new Tyler Municipal Library left the former Carnegie Public Library an empty building whose future was in doubt. The City of Tyler leased part of the building to the Society with the condition that the building would be completely renovated.
Over $300,000 was raised to complete the work. The restoration preserved the historic integrity of the building while modernizing it to assure the comfort of its patrons and to comply with building codes. In 1984 the building was opened as the Carnegie History Center Building and home of the Smith County Historical Society, Inc., Museum and Archives. The historic building, one of four Carnegie Library buildings remaining in Texas, was listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
In August of 1997 the Society began a restoration of the interior of the Carnegie building. The restoration was funded entirely with donations from members, local businesses, the City of Tyler, Smith County and the Sheriff of Smith County, J. B. Smith who supplied the labor. This work was completed in February of 1998.
In January 1999 the Society entered into a new lease agreement with the City of Tyler whereas the Society assumed operation and maintenance of the entire Carnegie building. Thus the Society assumed the role of both tenant and caretaker for this historic landmark in downtown Tyler.
The building houses Tyler’s only public history museum and the archival library collection of the Society. Payne Auditorium, on the second floor, has a stage, piano and seating capacity in excess of 110. The auditorium is available to the public for non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian and non-political public and civic use. Contact the Society to reserve the auditorium. A deposit fee for the key and clean up is required.
The historical museum displays the artifacts of the Society that reflect the historic, social, economic and political culture of the City of Tyler and Smith County, Texas. Most of these artifacts were donated by public-minded citizens to the Smith County Historical Society over the past 40 years, and are arranged in a chronological sequence.