Carnation Library, King County Library System

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 9/08/2016
  • Essay 11254

The Carnation Library has been an important cultural center since it first began in 1924, the work of dedicated women volunteers. Located in the small town of Carnation in the Snoqualmie River Valley, the library also serves a larger, unincorporated surrounding area. Originally called Tolt -- an approximation of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe's name for the place -- the town was renamed in 1917 for the Carnation Milk Farm that had located there. Its early economy was based on farming, dairying, and logging, and it remains a productive agricultural area. With forested hills, Cascade Mountain views, nearby parks and trails, and Snoqualmie Falls a short distance away, the river valley draws tourists, hikers, bikers, and campers. After World War II, population growth led to a need for expanded library services and in 1947 Carnation contracted with the King County Library System (KCLS). The Carnation Library annexed into KCLS in 1992. The library has been housed in several structures, including two built for the purpose, both partially funded through KCLS bond issues, one in 1972 at 4804 Tolt Avenue and a replacement structure on the same site that opened in 2009.


Carnation is situated in a broad flood plain northeast of the confluence of the Tolt and Snoqualmie rivers. For thousands of years this place was home to people of the Snoqualmie Tribe, a large group of Coast Salish Indians, once under the leadership of Chief Patkanim. The place that became Tolt/Carnation was an important Snoqualmie village site and the location of the tribe's administrative center. Called "Toltxw" (pronounced more or less like the English pronunciation of "Tolt" followed by "wh" as in "when"), the Snoqualmie word meaning "swift rushing waters," it was the place where district chiefs met and social events happened. The Snoqualmies have always been an important part of Carnation's history, and the tribal administrative offices were located in Carnation until 2008, when the headquarters were moved to the town of Snoqualmie.

The geography of the area, with its steep hills and rivers, has made the area somewhat isolated, even to this day when public transportation is difficult and little used. Carnation historically has also had to deal with severe weather conditions including seasonal river flooding and power outages, and while modern power grids have made outages less frequent, river flooding can still be a problem.

Early non-Indian settlers in the area began staking homestead claims in the Snoqualmie Valley in the 1860s and 1870s, most doing subsistence farming. Ample forests brought loggers, and by the 1880s numerous logging camps existed alongside a growing number of farms and dairies. For a time hops was an important crop. River travel provided the best early transportation because dirt roads were few and those that did exist were often muddy and impassable during seasonal flooding. The town of Tolt was platted in 1902 and incorporated in 1912. Although the 1911-1912 King County Directory listed the town's population as 340, developers anticipated a coming boom. Due to its geography the town was extremely remote but with the arrival of the railroad -- a Great Northern branch line out of Monroe in 1910 and then the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad (the Milwaukee Road) the following year -- expectations were high for a population increase. By 1914-1915, the King County Directory listed Tolt's population at 1,000.

The Carnation Milk Farm (Carnation Dairy) came to town in 1910 and its national prominence put Tolt on the map, prompting town officials to change the town's name to Carnation in 1917, despite the objections of many early residents.

First Library and Partnering with KCLS

By the 1920s Carnation was a small town known mostly for its surrounding dairies and farms. With no library in close proximity, a group of women volunteers formed the Tolt Civic Improvement Club (Carnation Civic Improvement Club) in November 1922 and began meeting in the Carnation Commercial Club. The first major project undertaken was to start a public library. Raising money from "silver teas," rummage sales, and magazine subscriptions, the women collected about 600 books and purchased a vacant building for $300. The library opened there in 1924, and through continued fundraising the Improvement Club was able to provide for all library expenses. The library was subsequently moved three times, due to new construction in town, before finding a permanent home.

Following World War II, Carnation and the surrounding area grew rapidly. The Women's Improvement Club continued to be the library's only support until 1947, when the town contracted with the recently created King County Library System for its collections and services. The club continued its strong support, doing landscaping around the library building and establishing a memorial fund to build a new library structure.

By the 1960s the Carnation Library building was reported to be the oldest in the King County Library System that had never had a major remodel. Shelving was insufficient and the small structure drastically overcrowded. Voters solidly supported a 1966 KCLS bond issue, which was matched with donations and federal funds to build an $88,000 structure, 2,200 square feet in size, at 4804 Tolt Avenue. It opened on March 12, 1972, with a collection of about 8,000 books. Nine of the original 28 Tolt Civic Improvement Club members attended the official opening. This 1972 structure served the community for decades, and was renovated in 1991 with new furniture and carpeting. In 1992 the Carnation Library was officially annexed into the King County Library System.

A New Library

In 2004 King County voters approved a $172 million capital bond that funded 13 new library buildings, 11 expanded libraries, 11 library renovations, and two parking-expansion projects. Carnation voters strongly backed the bond issue with an overwhelming 74.8 percent in favor. Speaking to the press prior to voting, Krissy Johnson, Carnation resident and mother of five, commented on the importance of the new library: "There is definitely a need here; we're a small town, but people are ready for the library to expand" (Harrell).

A KCLS study completed in 2007 highlighted some of the growing need that Johnson referred to. It reported that 36.8 percent of Carnation residents were under the age of 18, the highest number of youth in any incorporated city in King County. The youth population of the library's surrounding service area was also higher than the county average, 33.2 percent compared to 22.5 percent, making support for children's services a high priority for the Carnation Library. Most of the area's adults worked outside of the Snoqualmie Valley area.

The Carnation Library was one of five new library buildings designed by architects Miller Hull Partnership and built by general contractors BNBuilders, Inc. During construction, the Carnation Library was moved temporarily to the upstairs floor of the Sno-Valley Senior Center. The old library was then demolished and construction of the new structure began in July 2008, with the new Carnation Library officially opening on January 31, 2009. The modern 5,000-square-foot, $3.7 million structure doubled the space of the previous building. It included a much-needed community meeting room, with sliding doors allowing it to be opened for regular library functions when not used for meetings, along with study areas and expanded sections for children and teens.

The large entrance area included space for parking bicycles and a new sculpture. Community input in the planning stages also included strong support for keeping and transferring Native American artwork from the old library to the new one. This was done, and in a way that incorporated the art as an important part of the new library design. Six months after opening, the Carnation Library saw a 126 percent increase in its circulation, with patron visits rising 13 percent.

A Bigger Collection and New Technology

The new library not only added space and a bigger collection (books, magazines, CDs, and movies), it also allowed Carnation Library patrons to enter the modern age of technology in style. Patrons now had more computer terminals to access the library catalog and many more Internet stations, thus cutting waiting times. The library serves the Riverview School District, and with two elementary schools within walking distance, there are always students in the library after school. For those with no computer at home, the library could now provide Internet access. But with most students now having a personal Internet connection, use of the KCLS Virtual Library has become increasingly popular.

Computers also allowed an easier link between the library and the classroom, the library dedicating a special shelf for assignment materials and homework help. The new library also provided a place for story times and programs for young children and teens, as well as providing child-accessible shelving and seating. Like most public libraries, the Carnation Library also supports a number of homeschoolers and provides space for afterschool programs and study. The meeting room is used for preschool story hours.

A Community Place

The Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which runs for 32 miles between Duvall in the north and Rattlesnake Lake near I-90 in the south, draws a large number of people coming to the area for hiking, camping, fishing, or taking a scenic drive. Carnation is only about 10 miles north of popular Snoqualmie Falls, following SR 203/Tolt Avenue, and with a wealth of state, city, and county parks nearby, travelers often stop in Carnation for food and supplies as well as visiting the Carnation Library to rest, check their email accounts, use the restrooms, meet town residents, and gather current information about recreation in the vicinity. There are several children's summer camps in the valley, including Camp Korey, a year-round camp for seriously ill children, operating at the former Nestle Carnation Farm.

Other KCLS libraries such as Duvall and Fall City are fairly close to Carnation, but the geography of the area contributes to the separateness of these small libraries, strengthening their important function as community centers. While each library provides a unique place, they all gain maximum benefits as a part of the KCLS structure.

The Carnation Library is supported by a strong Friends of the Library group. As Carnation Library staff look to the future, they have the same priorities as other public libraries in the twenty-first century: remaining flexible and responding to changing community needs in building collections and services; making choices as new media becomes available (what to keep, what to buy, how to manage); and dealing with ever-shrinking space as collections continue to grow.


"Carnation Library 2007 Community Study," King County Library System (KCLS) website accessed May 10, 2016 (; "Delivering on a Promise to Voters: KCLS Capital Improvement Plan 11-Year Report, September 2015," KCLS website accessed June 4, 2016 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Carnation/Tolt -- Thumbnail History" (by Alan J. Stein), and "King County Library System" (by Paula Becker), (accessed May 15, 2016); Christine Savage Palmer, "Historic Overview, Carnation, Washington," King County Cultural Resources Division, Parks, Planning and Resources Department, September 1995, City of Carnation website accessed June 3, 2016 (; "Library is Project of Carnation Group," The Seattle Times, October 24, 1965, p. 99; Debera Carlton Harrell, "King County Libraries Have Big Plans for Bond Issue," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 12, 2004 (; "Carnation Library Opens," Daily Journal of Commerce, February 10, 2009 (; "Snoqualmie Tribe Celebrates New Headquarters," Snoqualmie Valley Record, October 2, 2008 (; Margaret Riddle telephone interviews with Mary Comstock, KCLS Librarian Services Manager, Carnation-Duvall-Redmond-Redmond Ridge, May 9 and June 2, 2016; Mary Comstock email to Margaret Riddle, June 6, 2016, in possession of Margaret Riddle, Everett, Washington.

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