North Coast Visitor Centre » Collections Blog » The history of North Coast Visitor Centre

Laying the Foundation Stone of the Carnegie Public Library, 1908

The building we are lucky to have currently housing the North Coast Visitor Centre has a rather multifaceted history. Many people know it to have been Thurso’s Town Hall in the past, and perhaps more fondly remember it as the town’s Dance Hall. And it does not stop there.

The original building was completed in 1870 and the year after officially opened as the Town Hall. Soon another aspect would be added, as in 1872 already a part of the building had a small library set up in it. This was done in accordance with the first Public Libraries Act of 1850.

A few decades later then, in 1908, saw the construction of an adjacent building to the Town Hall, as seen in the photographs. The Carnegie Public Library, which opened in 1910. Named after Andrew Carnegie.

Born in Dunfermline, Fife, he came from relatively humble origins as the son of a handloom weaver. Due to falling on hard times, his parents loaned money from his maternal uncle to move to America in hope of a better life, when he was 12 years old.
After a childhood of hardships and taxing work, Andrew Carnegie eventually made it big in the Steel industry. So big that at one point he became the richest man in the United States at the time.

After that achievement, Carnegie devoted the remainder of his life to philanthropy, investing heavily in places of education, music and science. Founding things such as the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Trust for the Universities, Carnegie Mellon University, or the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh.

And of course donated to the construction of a new public library in fair Thurso, hence why it was named after him.

While adjacent to the town hall, the Carnegie Public Library was not connected to its direct neighbour on the inside, operating as a separate building.

In the 1960s the Public Library moved to the old Miller Institute due to outgrowing its original space. In its stead the building adjacent to the Town Hall was turned into the Thurso Heritage Museum. The Town Hall closed on the 27th of February 2006.

2008 saw the opening of the Caithness Horizons Museum. This saw the old Town Hall and public library buildings connected through new openings in the wall between them, and since then the former library part of the museum hosts the Dounreay exhibitions.

After Horizons closed in 2019 the North Coast Visitor Centre opened almost exactly a year ago now in November 2021. We are excited to see what the future may have in store for us and this building.