In the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1901, many of Jacksonville’s most important buildings were damaged or even destroyed.
One of the buildings ruined by the fire was the city’s library, which had first opened only a couple of decades earlier.
A local lawyer wrote to Andrew Carnegie, steel industry magnate and the father of the modern philanthropy movement, in an attempt to secure funds to have a new library built. Libraries were one of Carnegie’s favorite causes; over the course of his lifetime, he donated the funds for the construction of over 2,500 libraries across the globe.
Carnegie offered $50,000 of funding, with a few conditions. The city had to commit to supporting the library financially and had to find the property for it. He also required that the library be free and open to all city residents. This meant that in the days of segregation, black and white residents would be given equal access to the library.
That might sadly enough be part of why the public vote to approve the library passed only by the slimmest of margins.
Plans were set into motion to construct the two-story limestone building at the corner of Ocean and Adams streets. It was designed by Jacksonville architect Henry Klutho, who designed many prominent buildings in the aftermath of the Great Fire.
The library opened in the summer of 1905, with a collection of over 8,000 books. It became the first tax-supported library in the state of Florida.
The building became the centerpiece of the newly-formed Jacksonville Public Library system, which soon branched out across the city.
Eventually the building’s size became an issue as the city’s population expanded. In 1960, the city initiated plans to build a new Main Library building.
By 1965, the Haydon Burns Library building opened down the street at 122 N. Ocean Street. The Carnegie building was left behind.
In 1982, then-Mayor Jake Godbold announced that the building was up for sale, along with several other city-owned buildings. Bedell Law Firm bought the building for $314,000 to restore it and convert it to law offices.
It makes sense that Bedell would purchase the historic property. The firm itself has been around since 1865, earning it the title of “oldest law firm in Florida.”
The $1 million restoration effort was helmed by Jacksonville architect Ted Pappas. It took around three years to complete, and in January 1987 the building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The Carnegie-Bedell building (now officially referred to as the Bedell Building) has served as the headquarters for the Bedell Law Firm ever since, providing continued life to a property with over 100 years of history.