One of the early public buildings in Erie, the old public library was funded by a $150,000 bond issue from the Erie School District. The Beaux-Arts structure was designed by the Pittsburgh architectural firm Alden & Harlow and built by local contractor Henry Shenk, both were firms with impressive track records. The architects also designed the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh and several of the Carnegie funded libraries built in Pennsylvania. The Henry Shenk Construction Company was responsible for building many of the largest commercial structures in the downtown, including the Baldwin Building - Erie’s tallest skyscraper - at 10th and State Streets.
The library opened its doors to the public on February 16, 1899. Conceived as an educational center and museum, it housed the administration offices of the school district, Art Club of Erie and the Erie Public Museum. This library building was closed permanently when construction of the new public library was finished in 1996, and it was incorporated into the federal courthouse complex during a 2004 expansion project.