THESE historic photographs show the moment Darwen became American for a day.

For they record the opening of the town’s new library in May 1908 with the Stars and Stripes flying proudly from the front of the ornate building.

Hundreds gathered to watch as industrialist Andrew Carnegie officially opened the library which he had helped to fund.

One of the richest men in the world, Carnegie had amassed his fortune through his interests in iron and steel production. His wealth was colossal - in today’s money, it has been estimated that he was worth more than $375 billion.

But he was also a generous benefactor and after retiring from his business empire in 1901, he dedicated the rest of his life to providing public libraries on both sides of the Atlantic which took his name.

Darwen already had a proud tradition of making books available to its residents, being the first town to open a public library in the Mechanics Institute in 1839.

In 1871, Darwen was the first non-borough to adopt the Public Libraries Act which came into force that year was also was the first town in the north of England to adopt the open-access system. This meant that borrowers could browse through the books before taking them out.

A public library was opened in the Local Board Offices next to the Peel Baths, then when the Technical School opened in 1895 the library moved there.

In 1904, Darwen Council applied to Andrew Carnegie for funds for a purpose-built library and he granted £8,000 towards the cost of the building.

For his generosity, Carnegie was made a freeman of the Borough at the time of his visit to the town.

The new library, under the control of librarian Joseph Pomfret, was an immediate success and quickly became one of the busiest libraries in Lancashire with residents making full use of the open access policy, allowing them to choose which books to borrow.

One of Carnegie’s main aims was to further educate the population by giving them easy access to books. Popular fiction, however, was not to be found on the shelves as it was banned at the time.