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The History of Libraries in Montgomery County

This history of libraries in Montgomery County was undertaken by Mary Early Johnson to celebrate the centennial of the Carnegie Library building in 2002. The history was never finished, unfortunately, beyond 1908. A brief synopsis of the Carnegie’s history has thus been added to the end of Ms. Johnson’s narrative. Her original introduction and text follow:

The story of a library in Crawfordsville does not necessarily begin with the construction of the present-day Carnegie building whose centennial we mark in July 2002. The idea of establishing a library in Crawfordsville dates to the earliest days of this city.

Montgomery County Library

From territorial times, libraries, education and “the pursuit of knowledge” were an acknowledged good in Indiana. The Northwest Ordinance, from The 23rd Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, states, “although the ordinances of 1787 provided that ‘schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged,’ there was no attempt at a public library system in Indiana during the territorial period” (Fossett: 61). The legislature established Vincennes University in 1806, and authorized a lottery to raise money to support “the aforesaid institution, and for the purpose of procuring a library and the necessary philosophical apparatus” (Fossett: 62).

The earliest laws of the State of Indiana, established at the Constitutional Convention of 1816, included the following provision: “The General Assembly, at the time they lay off a new county, shall cause at least ten per cent to be reserved out of the proceeds of the sale of town lots, in the seat of justice of such county, for the use of a public library for such county, and, at the same session, they shall incorporate a library company under such rules and regulations as will best secure its permanence and extend its benefits…[also] the inhabitants of any city, town, village or neighborhood in this state, or any part of them, whenever they have subscribed the sum of one hundred dollars for a public library” could then proceed to organize (Kettleborough). We are not made to understand the nature of civic support, whether there was public money or not, or whether there was land set aside.

At any rate, the Montgomery County Library was established in 1827 as a subscription library costing 75 cents a year, or 6 ¼ cents per month, for the privilege of borrowing a book. John Beard, Isaac C. Elston, Moses Cox, John B. Chapman, Williamson Dunn, and other pioneers were early trustees. George W. Jones was the first librarian, and in the 1840s John L. Wilson acted as librarian.

Theodore Gronert, Wabash College historian, wrote about this library in his book, Sugar Creek Saga, and in The Crawfordsville Journal Review. Myrtle Weatherholt, Crawfordsville librarian in the 1920s and 30s, and Mary Bishop, library director from the 1960s to late 80s, also wrote about this library. They had each had an intimate look at an account book or ledger, which apparently provides a complete record of the borrowers’ lists and statistics of books circulated right up to1856. A diligent present-day search did not locate this ledger, even though the Local History card catalog still contains a card for it. Miss Weatherholt found it in the library safe, and Mary Bishop described it in 1977 as residing “now in the archives of the Crawfordsville District Public Library” (Bishop: 215).

Miss Weatherholt describes this old record book as having faded ink and yellowing pages, which list the library’s first collection. There were 247 books, among which were Murphy’s Tacitus, Josephus’ works, Rollins’ Ancient History, Gil Blas, Homer’s Iliad, Locke’s Essays, Biographa Americana, Franklin’s Life (Autobiography), among other daunting titles. The only fiction included, (unless you count the Iliad) were three works: Tom Jones, Scottish Chiefs, and Don Quixote.

Mary Bishop noted the “fine, elaborate handwriting” of the account book, and also the inclusion of Celebrated Female Sovereigns, “a surprising title for a male-dominated clientele”(Bishop: 215). Library users included Henry Benjamin Ristine, George Jones and Sarah Daniels. Miss Daniels, Eliza Ristine, and a Miss Powers seem to be the only female patrons, at least those noted by the three historians. According to Bishop, “pages and pages of entries in the Journal show that the library was well used until the late 1840s. Only one book was loaned in 1855 and the five loans in 1856 close out the Journal” (Bishop: 215). She wondered if William VanArsdale, who took out v. 1. of Hume’s History of England on December 29th, 1856, returned it or got to read the later volumes.

Maclure Workingmen’s Libraries

Bishop thinks the new school law of 1852 probably had a lot to do with the end of this subscription library, as it included a special tax providing for township libraries. The Maclure Workingmen’s Libraries also began to be implemented, with Montgomery County receiving one in Crawfordsville and one in Waveland.

William Maclure, born in Ayr, Scotland in 1763, made a great fortune as a partner in an English mercantile firm, Miller, Hart & Company. He came to the United States in 1796 and, following another interest, became a geologist, conducting a geological survey of the United States. Maclure next turned to educational reform and traveled to Europe to study 19th century trends toward vocational schools. Returning to Philadelphia, he set up a School of Industry for Boys and financed a school for girls. He became a partner to Robert Owen, and was instrumental in assembling “the Boatload of Knowledge,” a group of educational and other experts who traveled down the Ohio River on a highly publicized voyage to New Harmony, Indiana.

These educators and experts soon experienced disharmony, but not before setting up a remarkable cooperative community, innovative in many ways: educational, environmental, artistic, architectural – completely idealistic. William Maclure and Robert Owen fell out over utopian policy disagreements, and Maclure, who had been an intellectual and financial force in the project, pulled out. He had set up a Working Men’s Institute at New Harmony, and called on a young Posey County lawyer, Alvin P. Hovey, later the governor of the state, to write a will creating the Maclure Workingmen’s Libraries. This will directed his administrators to “pay over the sum of $500.00 to any club or society of laborers who may establish in any part of the United States a reading or lecture room with a library of at least 100 volumes” (Henry, cited in Bishop: 216). Maclure died in 1840, and in the mid 1850s a distribution of funds began, eventually resulting in 144 libraries in 89 Indiana counties, including the Mechanic’s Library in Crawfordsville, and the Manual Labor Library in Waveland.

Union Township Library, Robinson & William’s Subscription Library

The Union Township Library was established in 1855. Authorized as part of the Indiana school law engineered by Caleb Mills at the Indiana Constitutional Convention of 1851, and passed in 1852, it contained a provision for a public library for every township in the state of Indiana. “The state raised $273,000 by taxation, and supplied the township with an average of about 300 volumes each . . . fairly well selected” (Fossett: 63).

Mary Bishop reported that these State Board of Education libraries were presented to county commissioners, who divided them among the townships, sometimes splitting up sets, so that one township would have part, and another township the remaining volume or volumes. An article, “Literary Provender,” from the November 28, 1878 Crawfordsville Star, calls Union Township “the only township library in Montgomery County . . . retaining anything like its former completeness.” Originally containing some 600 volumes, the library’s losses were considerable. “Hundreds of volumes had been lost, destroyed, or carried out of the county by western immigrants (sic) . . . A gentleman from this city, recently on a trip west, found books out of this library in a Kansas farmer’s sitting room. On the record book we find that all classes have been guilty of carelessness in the non-return of books, prominent preachers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, farmers, and even one editor, till the shelves, once well filled, now bear a hungry and vacant look.” Trustee Grubb was trying to hunt down these straying volumes, but having a hard time. As a result of this light-hearted, light-fingered attitude on the part of the public, the remaining volumes, part sets and heavy, serious works, were fare for heavy, serious readers.

Another library, Robinson & Wallace’s subscription library containing about a thousand volumes, seems to have supplied the romantic and adventure novels the public demanded. At least 60 percent of this library’s offerings read were novels of “the French Alphonso Daudet school, and are taken out, not alone by the fair sex of tender age, but by many young stalwarts of the stronger sex. . . . The circulation of the cheap edition of the works of the day has largely interfered with the circulation of the city library,” but that institution “had already begun to add to its volumes”(The Crawfordsville Star: 28 Nov. 1878).

In those days, “Wabash College Library was available to non-students under certain restrictions and was used by lawyers and teachers of Crawfordsville” (Gronert, Sugar Creek Saga: 332). Wabash has, throughout the years, been a valuable resource for the area, and has had varying arrangements facilitating community use. Crawfordsville is indeed fortunate to have a fine college library in the city.

In 1878, both the Union Township and the Maclure’s Workingman’s Library (or Mechanic’s Library) were dead or dying, and their collections sitting in someone’s home or office (perhaps Trustee Grubb’s). Gronert, in Sugar Creek Saga, suggests that both libraries collapsed during the Civil War, due to attention being turned to other matters. The 1878 Star article certainly suggests that the Union Township collection still existed then, intact as an entity, and The Crawfordsville Journal mentions the Maclure collection in 1868 and 1869. Reports of their deaths were apparently exaggerated.

The Ladies’ Reading Association

The next we know of an interest in libraries appears with the Ladies’ Reading Association in 1868, at about the time the Maclure book collection was going begging. The Ladies’ organization was an enterprising group which staged “entertainments” and picnics to raise money, at first for the poor, and later for their library. On December 3, 1868, The Crawfordsville Journal reported that “the ladies of Crawfordsville have organized a society whose object is to furnish a reading room and library for the exclusive benefit of their own sex.”

They launched this enterprise with an exhibition, featuring readings and “tableaux,” one of which was called, “Woman as man would have her;” another: “Characteristic Women.” The weather was bad, so their audience was limited. Undeterred, they rented space for a parlor and adjoining room in Kenyon’s Gallery, and proceeded to offer a library, financing the operation with other “entertainments.” The officers of this Reading Association were President: Mrs. Cecilia McDonald; Vice President, Miss Mary Hovey; Treasurer, Miss Emma Hough; Secretary, Miss Lizzie M. Boynton. The Executive committee included the Misses Mary E. Cumberland, Carrie V. Krout, Flora Mitchell and Dora Sloan. It seems clear that most of these women were also the suffragists of the times (i.e., early feminists).

On December 17th, the group held an entertainment, for the purpose of increasing funds and adding to their reading material, serious and up-to-date – no Gazette of Fashion in their reading room. The Crawfordsville Journal, on December 31, 1868 states that the heirs of the Maclure Workingman’s Library are suing to reclaim their books, and asks the rhetorical questions “Will the people of Crawfordsville reorganize the Maclure Library Association of this place and perform the conditions under which the books were bequeathed? Or will they suffer this fine library to be removed from this city?” On January 8, 1869, the Ladies, “assisted by Messrs M II Galey and Tip Wade, and others of our ‘singists'” gave another entertainment, to benefit the poor.

On February 25, 1869, we learn that the Maclure Workingman’s Library had been transferred to the Ladies’ Reading Association, the books to be placed in the Reading Room. The young men of the city were to be admitted on Saturday afternoons.

On March 11, 1869, The Crawfordsville Journal announced that “a ‘programme’ of music, readings and light refreshment will be held in Kenyon’s Art Gallery, admission 10 cents.” This event was to be open to men as well as women, and the Journal advised “Go, by all means, go.” On April 8, 1869, it was reported that The Ladies’ Reading Association had, in the last three months, earned $293.00, and had given $57.00 of that to the poor.

On that same date, “Shall we have the Library?” began another announcement of a meeting having to do with the Maclure’s Library. Another rhetorical question is asked, “shall the movement which is now on foot to collect and add to the old Maclure Workingmen’s Library be a success or failure?” The books had been scattered and, while some had been collected, or would be returned, they would amount to considerably less than a thousand. Some of them were in sad and tattered condition. A meeting was to be held on April 9th, 1869, hopefully to work up enthusiasm for rebuilding the collection. Citizens were asked to meet with the Institute. “Who is the Institute? Come and see…get enthused.”

On July 7, 1869, the The Crawfordsville Journal states that a “grand fancy dress picnic” was planned, and a proud statement was made: “Notwithstanding the summer heat, the Reading Association thrives and progresses. Come and see if we speak not the truth.” 250 persons attended the fancy dress picnic on July 22nd, not to mention the small boys who climbed the fence to get in. The supper was excellent, the entertainment very good, and the picnic was declared a success. On September 29, the Ladies ordered “over $30.00 worth of choice new books.”

Entertainments continued. The next summer, the ladies decided to rent rooms in Mr. Harter’s building and to move the Library “at once.” Lizzie Boynton, their secretary, reports that they hope to open their rooms “with a musical social, of which due notice will be given. Not man’s rights or woman’s rights is our motto, but the equal rights of all of God’s creatures to self-culture and self-improvement. Come over and help us” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 9 June 1870).

The ladies mounted several more entertainments, to glowing reports, then on September 29th, 1870, received a review for their tableau “The Indiana Legislature in the 20th Century,” which stated sourly “the ladies can do much better.” A few months later brought a short announcement: “The Ladies’ Reading Association, after an eventful existence of more than two years, departed this life last Saturday afternoon. They divided their assets (books, periodicals, etc.) among the members by lot. They had no debts, and said they were disbanding “for the purpose of organizing another reading or literary association, open alike to both sexes” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 23 Feb. 1871).

One can only suppose that the Maclure’s heirs took back their books, or that the effort to find good reading rooms was too much, but another reading group was organized, by 1884, and it appears the “entertainments” continued. Also in the February 23rd Journal, one was announced, which featured the Krout sisters and Miss Mollie Hoover, to be presented in Eltzroth Hall.

Ladies’ Literary Society

The Ladies’ Literary Society was organized in 1884 and met first at the home of Mrs. W.P. Herron. One of the first programs was on “The Comedies of Shakespeare,” Mrs. Campbell to prepare the paper, Mrs. Harrison to lead the conversation, Mrs. Josephine Luters to give the biographical sketch of the author – an ambitious agenda, indeed.

This worthy organization became the Athenian on April 30, 1888. Still an active group today, it is called the second oldest women’s club in the state of Indiana, the first being the Minerva Club of New Harmony. No connection can be found between the Ladies’ Reading Association and the Ladies’ Literary Society, but some of the same women were members of both, and the desire for self-improvement was readily apparent in both, so we might make an assumption that one was heir to the other.

The Athenian’s library promotion activities are a little difficult to discern from their minutes. The club did join the State Union of Federated Clubs, which was centered in the Indiana State Library. This Union was devoted to promoting group action for good causes, one of which was the establishing of libraries throughout the state. The Athenian also joined, in October 1897, a local Library committee, along with other women’s clubs in Crawfordsville, to establish a public library in Crawfordsville.

The Current Events Club

The Current Events Club was organized in 1896, on October 26, as “a Woman’s Literary club, to be known as the Current Events Club” (Current Events Club minutes: 1). They met at Mrs. J.W. Ramsay’s, and the Mmes Thomas Moffett, Robert Larsh, James Waugh, Charles Travis and Miss Kate Snyder were present. This organization prospered, and very soon was promoting a library, or better library service for the community.

On October 22nd, 1897, a paper or “conversation,” “Public Libraries,” was presented by Mrs. Davis, assisted by Mrs. Truax, and Miss Beck. (Miss Sue Beck was to be the librarian for the Main St. location, and became the first librarian for the Carnegie in 1902.) “By the close of the conversation we found that a foundation of a library had been laid.” Mrs. Kingery launched the new venture with a donation of twenty five books, and others followed with more gifts of books. “Mrs. Davis, Mrs. McKnight, Miss Kate Snyder, Mrs. Reynolds with Miss Krout (Mary Hannah) as a consulting member,” were appointed “as a Library Committee”(Current Events Club minutes: 29) to confer with other clubs.

At the next meeting, November 12, 1897, the committee reported that other clubs were appointing committees, and they would meet and come to “some definite plans” (Current Events Club minutes: 31-32). On December 3rd, 1897, the library committee reported that a meeting had resulted in a “Public Library Association.” One member from each club would make plans for “permanent organization and library management” (Current Events Club minutes: 33).

The Public Library Association

The Public Library Association, formed in October of 1897 (or December 3, 1897 per Current Events’ minutes), was composed of the Current Events Club Library Committee, and representatives from “the Athenian, the Musical Amateurs, the Twentieth Century, the University, the Mother’s Council, the Bay View Reading Circle and the Artists’ League – all the women’s clubs” (Fertig: 1).

A meeting was called “of everyone interested in this movement,” where “a number of representative citizens responded, and it was then and there decided to have a library open to anyone who could pay an annual membership fee of $1.00” (Weatherholt: 1). On February 25, 1898, the Library committee reported that “suitable rooms had been procured for the Library” located in the Thomas Building, at the corner of Water and Main Streets, where the Ben Hur Building now stands. After some delays, April 15th was confirmed as the date to “throw open the doors.” Miss Beck would serve as Librarian gratis, “glad of the opportunity to learn the duties of a Librarian” under the tutelage of Harry Wedding, Wabash College Librarian (Current Events Club minutes: 44).

On April 29th, the Current Events Library Committee, having completed its work, was discharged, and the club authorized a $5.00 expenditure for one month’s payment for the Encyclopedic Dictionary. The Library was in a “flourishing condition, with 390 first class books” already catalogued. This subscription library, officially named the Crawfordsville Public Library, was finally opened to the public in June of 1898. “It contained about 700 books and several hundred volumes (issues?) of unbound magazines. However, this was only the stepping stone to larger things”(Current Events Club minutes: 47). The study of school laws led people to believe that a true public library would be possible, established and maintained by the school board.

The sentiment and public approval of a genuine public library was galloping along. On October 7, 1898, the club voted favorably on forming a local federation of clubs, one object being to “push the public library.” The subscription library was “fairly successful,” and, after some negotiating with the Crawfordsville School Board, the 1000 volumes plus periodicals and furnishings were transferred to the care and custody of the trustees, Dr. Cowan, W.H. Hulet and W.C. Carr (Current Events Club minutes: 50). The agreement stated that the library should be transferred to them; they would, with the support of the school financing, undertake the maintenance, and would appoint three members of the association to serve on the library board with them. They appointed Mrs. J.L. Davis, Dr. Martha Griffith, and Mrs. Minnie A. McKnight.

After the transfer, two rooms at the Y.M.C.A. building were rented, space that had been Louis Bischof’s cloak and dressmaking rooms. The move officially took place on October 10, 1899, with Miss Sue Beck again serving as librarian. At that time “the library had 1,300 books, but there was a lament that about 9/10ths of the circulation was fiction, showing that so far the demand for serious literature has been very light” (Fertig: 3). This Crawfordsville Public Library flourished, in spite of light reading tendencies in the patrons. The Crawfordsville Journal reports on November 21, 1900, that a lengthy list of new books was purchased which included biographies, histories, science texts, classic works and children’s books – it would seem, not an unworthy volume among them.

Andrew Carnegie

A continuing need for expansion, along with news of Andrew Carnegie’s public library grants, prompted an attempt to contact the Carnegie Foundation. Discussion on the part of the School Board, the Library Committee and others continued. Then at a meeting held on December 31st, 1900, William F. Hulet, of the School Board, and Arthur A. McCain, editor of The Crawfordsville Journal and secretary of the Commercial Club (forerunner to the Chamber of Commerce), met with Edwin Anderson of the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. Mr. Anderson, a Wabash graduate, paid a visit to his brother, Judge A.B. Anderson of Crawfordsville, creating an opportunity for a first contact with Carnegie. “Mr. Anderson saw no good reason why Crawfordsville should not obtain at least $25,000 and kindly volunteered in case the matter was referred to him to say a good word for the town” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 19 March 1901 ).A lengthy correspondence began between James Bertram, private secretary to Andrew Carnegie, and William Hulet and W.V. Wert, for the School Board.

A letter reprinted in The Crawfordsville Journal, March 19, 1901, was dated January 22, 1901, and addressed to Mr. Andrew Carnegie, #5 West 51st St., New York, N.Y.:

Dear Sir:
The people of Crawfordsville have noticed with a great deal of interest your generosity in building public libraries in various parts of the country. At a recent meeting of the Commercial Club, an organization representing the substantial element of the community, the subject of our library came up and I was instructed to write to you to learn if you would consider the matter of helping us to an appropriate building.
Our public library is young, but growing vigorously, and will, in a short time, outgrow the storeroom that now contains it. It was started three years ago by the voluntary action of our public-spirited people, who, two years ago, turned it over to the city authorities, who now control it. Public sentiment will endorse an annual expenditure from public funds of $2,000 to $3,000 for its support.
Crawfordsville, with its adjacent suburbs, is a community of 9,000 to 10,000 people.
Mr. Edwin Anderson, librarian of the Carnegie Library at Pittsburgh was at one time a resident of Crawfordsville for several years and may be able to give you information in regard to our town.
Hoping that you will consider the matter favorably, I am
Yours very truly,
W.F. Hulet, sec.

A letter from Edwin Anderson announced Carnegie’s approval of the project and enclosed a letter from James Bertram, Carnegie Foundation secretary. Bertram approved the $25,000 grant for Crawfordsville Public Library, stating that if the town “will furnish a suitable site, and agree through ordinance of council to support a library at not less than $2,500 a year, Mr. Carnegie will be glad to give $25,000 for a free library building.” The letter refers Mr. Hulet to Mr. Anderson “in regard to site and plans of the building if you approach him” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 18 March 1901).

The Carnegie Library

A committee including J.H. Evans, Commercial Club president, W.F. Hulet, and M.M. Nye of the School Board set about looking for likely library sites. Properties on the southwest corner of Green and Pike streets, the northwest corner of Pike and Water, the Griffith property on the northeast corner of Washington and Wabash, the northwest corner of Main and Walnut, northwest corner of Main and Water, and the northeast corner of Main and Grant were all considered. One of Carnegie’s stipulations for suitable sites was that it should be within two blocks of the town square. All these sites apparently qualified, as they were approximately two blocks or less from the Courthouse. The Library, the School Board and the city council appointed a committee of eleven: “three school trustees, three councilmen and five representative citizens,” and then deliberations began. A large announcement ran in the The Crawfordsville Journal on April 5, 1901, sponsored by Louis Bischof’s Big Store, asking local citizens to vote on their favorite library location. A ballot box, tightly sealed, would be placed in the store, and the votes would be tallied each evening and the results published.

On April 8, 1901, the Journal’s Council News reported that the decision had been narrowed down to three sites, including the Griffith property, and that the citizens had been “bestirring themselves.” The matter might be settled at that night’s meeting. At the meeting, which was “jammed full of spectators,” both the committee vote and the popular vote approved the Griffith corner, at Washington and Wabash Avenue. This was “greeted with loud applause, and most of the crowd at once left to spread the news.” The cost of the Griffin property was $5,000.

The Journal next lists a number of new books purchased, a definite sign of optimism, even euphoria, at the prospect of expanded quarters. The next report was that the Library committee had selected an architect, W.F. Sharpe, and had accepted the plans he had presented. Mr. Sharpe was also the architect for the Masonic Temple, “which will be in the course of erection just across the street as the library building goes up and [he] will virtually camp between the two places.”

The plans, as revealed in the Journal of May 2nd, 1901, were as follows: “The building is to be of oolitic limestone, is one story and has a high basement. The principle entrance is from Washington Street, and is a very imposing one. Although but one story high the roof finials are higher than any portion of the Masonic Temple across the street. The cornice will be of copper and the roof of copper or tile. In the principle entrance vestibule are two niches for statues or busts. The floors are of marble mosaic. The reading rooms are of equal size, one on either side of the hall. The librarian commands a view over each entire room. The stack room is in the rear and provides for 20,000 volumes, six shelves high, and the ceiling is high enough for an additional 20,000 volumes when the second deck is put in, some years hence.

A secondary entrance is at the center on the Wabash Avenue front and in the rear of this entrance are the janitor’s room, superintendent’s and board’s room and librarian’s room. In the basement are the teachers’ assembly room, toilets, unpacking and cataloguing. In the basement are also the usual provisions for heating and ventilating with fuel room, etc. The building will be one of the handsomest in the state. The lot will be graded up three feet from the sidewalk and will be surrounded by a cement wall.”

On July 1st the working drawings for the library were to be ready in about three days. There was a strong community demand for a stone-faced building, for both the Temple and the library. The library committee and Mr. Sharpe, the architect, were “of the opinion that the first bids will overrun the limit.” The library would be completely sheathed in stone, “except for the north side of the stack room.” By August 13th, Mr. Wert also asked the city council whether a cornerstone would be wanted by the city. As they had about a month until it was time to lay the stone, they would deliberate. On August 27, 1901, Mr. Wert reported that the cost would be $15.00 for the words Free Public Library, 1901 plus the cost of the stone. The council took no action on the matter, therefore “the cornerstone ceremonies will probably go by the board.”

By September 10, 150,000 bricks had been laid, and 200,000 more were on the grounds. Three cars of stone had arrived and two more were on the way, accelerating the work that had been delayed. On October 8th, Mr. Wert again reported, “the stone could not be gotten as rapidly as desired, but several cars had already been put in place, and that the first consignment of iron joist had arrived.” The next month, the council resolved that the library commission “be instructed to see that no more permanently chipped or broken stone” would go into the new library building. Mr. Wert said that it “was intended to remedy the [chipped] places with a cement made for this purpose after the building was completed.” He also stated that “nearly $100.00 worth of stone had been chipped by some vandals one night recently who had taken an oak scantling and maliciously broken off the edges of a quantity of it” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 22 Oct. 1901).

On November 5th, Mr. Wert reported the work was slowing down because of a shortage of stone, and Mr. Gilkey had ordered a new supply. By December 3rd, work was progressing “very satisfactorily on the library building and…the stack room and the superintendent’s offices are up ready for the second tier of joists.” Also in December, the special library commission asked for funds of $1,663.00 in extra costs for plan changes to the Carnegie building. The School Board agreed to pay all but $100 of this amount, which would be paid out of the library fund. These alterations were apparently for the mosaic flooring of the library.

Fifty new volumes for boys and girls were announced by the public library, including books by Louisa May Alcott, Howard Pyle, and others, on January 21, 1902. On January 22, a long list of the latest fiction was published, sub-captioned “The Public Library keeps Abreast of the Times, and is Consequently a Popular Resort.” The authors include Sara Orne Jewett, Frank Norris, Maurice Thompson, Mark Twain, and many less familiar names, at 100 years later. Another list of books was published on January 29, stating “The public library is a center for all classes of people. It caters to all tastes except the depraved . . . .” These books included religion, biography, fine arts, sociology and literature, and with the preceding lists, are evidence of an increasingly relevant and well-rounded collection, not to mention the expectation of improved shelf space.

The Council discussed the paving of Washington Street on January 28, 1902. Dr Greene was quoted in the The Crawfordsville Journal as saying “some people never would get ready for paving.” He felt that with the Public Library, the Masonic Temple and the soon to be completed “new Big Four Station, it was bound to become the most important street of the city and if it were left unimproved it would place the city in the same category as Greencastle in the eyes of the traveling and visiting public.” Mr. Wert felt that the public approved the paving, having kept a tally of fifteen for and two against among those who had spoken to him, in an early example of polling.

In the years preceding the erection and opening of the Carnegie Library, the city of Crawfordsville was the center of feverish activity towards civic improvement. On December 3, 1900, the city council’s discussion encompassed paving the streets, sewers and sewer connections and lighting deficiencies. In quick succession, the council dealt with the natural gas company and maps of gas lines that were needed, the water and sewer companies and detailed plans for them, and the streetcar franchise which was about to be signed.

The work of the city council was exceedingly detailed, and the coordination of all of these efforts seemed both nit-picky and heroic. Water line improvements and sewers must be laid or constructed before the paving, and the paving and new sidewalks must be coordinated. The paving and sidewalks also had to accommodate the large building projects. Washington Street was being paved in 1901 from North Street to Franklin Street, where the three aforementioned buildings, the Library, the Temple and the Big Four Station were going up.

Discussions of the light company detailed the need for new streetlights, as the old ones were rusting and looking shabby. The traction company also entered the mix, with a question as to the efficiency of the light company, and whether it should build its own power station (which it eventually did.) Another matter for coordination was the laying of tracks, one set for the traction company and one for the streetcar company.

The setting of fire hydrants was another concern, among many. The council spent many meetings arguing about the use of crushed stone as opposed to gravel in the construction or substructure of the streets, and about the use of brick, as well as asphalt as opposed to tar. The streets were brick-surfaced one hundred years ago, and it is interesting to imagine the extent of the upheaval brought about by all this construction.

Early in 1902, “Mr. Gilkey reported that work was progressing slowly on the Carnegie library, the stone masons working in the old shed getting out stone to be put in position as soon as weather permitted” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 11 Feb. 1902). On March 25, Mr. Wert reported progress, “the roof being now under construction and the iron work being finished, and the brick and stone work nearly so. The 4th installment of $5,000 was received from Mr. Carnegie yesterday evening.”

In April, a Journal piece on general civic improvement states “the Masonic bodies will spend $35,000 on their handsome new temple, the work on which is just beginning to be pushed. Work has begun on the brick and stone work . . . and the building will be dedicated sometime next winter, if nothing interferes. The Emerson Creamery, Culver Union Hospital, the paving of east Main Street, the Crawfordsville Ice and Cold Storage Company, The Christian Church, the Crawfordsville Wire and Nail plant and the Big Four Railway Company all have building or remodeling plans, and are, incidentally, providing boom times for the Poston Brick Company.” The library was definitely not isolated in its construction activity.

The council, on April 8th, heard a report from engineer Simpson, on “the matter of the disposition of the water from the roof of the public library building [which] will be turned into the sanitary sewer and used to flush the same, saving the city some expense for water.”

On April 22nd, Mr. Wert reported that the building was wired, the stone and brick work was about completed, and work was now in progress on the marbleoid floors. The School Board Minutes of late the preceding year called these floors “granetoid,” and at times the word “mosaic” was used. At any rate, all agreed they were worth the extra money the school board had agreed to pay for them.

The next month, Mr. Wert reported that the last estimate for library work had been sent to Mr. Carnegie. All had been finished except the curb around the building, which was referred to the school board. Then, “Notice is given to the patrons of the public library that after Thursday, July 10, no books will be issued from the library. The room will be kept open as usual for the patron to use, but no books will be allowed to be taken away from the room.” Patrons who had books out were urged to return them, as the trustees “desired to take an invoice of all the books” before the move” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 13 May 1902).

On July 12, Wert is quoted in The Crawfordsville Journal as saying that the “new Carnegie public library is very near completion and by Monday evening I think the building will be ready for occupancy.” The floors were being polished, and were declared “fine pieces of work.” The electricians were almost finished, and all that remained was the lawn grading and finishing the curbing. Carnegie’s agents had made unannounced visits at regular intervals and had approved stages of construction as it went along. “Mr. Carnegie is pretty long-headed in his benefactions as well as in the conduct of his great business, and he has gone so far as to see that the money has donated has been expended in the most judicious manner.”

The library dedication was thus being planned. The exercise would probably be held in Center Church, on the opposite corner of Wabash and Washington, now called Wabash Avenue Presbyterian. It was thought that besides the ceremony, there would be several speakers, among them Edwin H. Anderson, of Pittsburgh, Miss Mary Hannah Krout, and others not yet selected. After the exercises, the audience would “repair to the library, which will then for the first time be thrown open to the public.” They expected “a large concourse of people.”

Later the same month, the Journal reported in an article headlined “Building Finished,” that contractor was given a final payment. The total contract called for $22,897.31, and the work was done for $22.55 less than that. Total building costs were $24,460.31, including the school board’s $1563.00 for the ‘marbleoid’ floors and the city’s $186.00 for shelving. There would be no other expense except for furniture and some curbing. (The Crawfordsville Journal: 16 July 1902).

The Dedication of the Carnegie Library

By July 24, the library dedication program was nearly completed. Rev. C.H. Wilson would make the principal address. D.H. Gilkey, chairman of the Library Commission, would speak briefly and then turn over the key to Mayor Elmore representing the city. Mayor Elmore would pass it along to the School Board, represented by Superintendent Millis, who would make a short speech of acceptance. Center Church choir would provide music, and each person in attendance was to receive a “souvenir programme.” At the close of the exercises the building would “be thrown open to the public for the first time.” The library commission would act as a reception committee and show the people through the various rooms.

The dedication on July 29th, of “the noble pile of stone,” attracted a crowd “that tested the capacity of the church auditorium. So great was the interest in the occasion that even the sultry weather did not keep the people at home.

After the singing of the Gloria, Rev. S.W. Goss read the eighth chapter of Proverbs and Rev. S.V. McKee offered the invocation in the absence of Dr. Tharp. The choir sang an anthem and then Rev. C.H. Wilson delivered the dedicatory address. He spoke of the coincidence of his having come to Crawfordsville by the same route as the library came, that is by way of Pennsylvania and New York, and of having arrived here about the same time. A person may have had many disadvantages in life, of parentage, education, environment, but in the library these disadvantages disappear, for he can here choose for himself his own companions, he may travel to the utmost parts of the earth and without regard to time or space mingle with the choice spirits of the earth. Only those books which are positively and undoubtedly immoral he said should be excluded from the library and no effort should be made to suppress by exclusion any social, political or religious heresies. The people should be free to pick and choose for themselves. Many may read only the light and unsubstantial forms of literature, but that is better than not reading at all and the time will come when, with the reading habit firmly fixed, they will demand something stronger and better. He had observed that literary men as a rule, no matter what their personal vices might be, always put their best thoughts to paper. In closing he asked his hearers in thinking of Carnegie, the giver of the library, not to forget the toiling thousands who, in making a living for themselves, were making a fortune for their employer” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 30 July 1902). In all, Rev. Wilson celebrated the library ethic, the romance of books and literature and the importance of the occasion.

After an anthem by the choir, D.H. Gilkey, acting for the library commission, gave the keys of the library to Mayor Elmore, representing the city. Gilkey’s remarks included a “warm and deserved tribute to the ladies to whose efforts Crawfordsville owes everything for what she has in the way of a library. Amid great discouragement they started in a small and modest way what has now grown to be the pride of every citizen. The influence of books, or of a single book, Mr. Gilkey said, is immeasurable…The city of Crawfordsville spends $2,4000 annually for education, but, said the speaker, addressing himself to superintendent Millis: ‘If you teach our boys and girls but to read good books we shall count the money well spent'” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 30 July 1902). Mr. Gilkey complimented architect Sharpe and contractor Carr.

Mayor Elmore then delivered the keys to superintendent Millis, who gave a short talk on the value of libraries, the real meaning of democracy being the “bringing of society at its best to each child in the land to the end that there should be not equality of attainment, which is impossible, but equality of opportunity.” The program ended with another anthem and a benediction by Dr. A.W. Runyan, and then the crowd walked across the street to tour the “brilliantly lighted” library for an hour, taking tours conducted by the special library board members, who “took pleasure in showing and explaining everything” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 30 July 1902).

On August 1st, the Journal reported that the Columbus Republican “deplores” the fact that their city was to have a “poor little library” costing a mere $15,000 when Crawfordsville had such a fine one at $25,000. The Republican thought Columbus should kick in at least $5,000 more, for a building with some growth potential.

On August 4th, Miss Sue Beck reported that business at the new stand (the Carnegie) was better than at the old except for Saturday which was a little behind the attendance at the old Y.M.C.A. room. She looked for an increase as soon as the heat tapered off, and with the arrival of new books. Later that month, “on behalf of the students and alumni of the high school of this city, Miss Anna Willson, principal of the high school, turned over to the library board between three hundred and fifty and four hundred volumes to be placed in the new public library” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 28 August 1902). The Library, which started with about 700 volumes when founded by the ladies, had grown to about 5,000, and with a future budget of $1,000.00 per year for books, promised yearly increases.

The early years after the grand opening of the Carnegie Library were occupied with expanding the collection to fill the new spaces, and furnishing, especially the basement rooms, which were designated for meetings and programs. Local organizations were given permission to furnish the northwest lower room for their meetings. A book committee was appointed by the school board, and named Miss Lillian Blair, Mrs. James Waugh, Mrs. Ida Tannenbaum, Miss Sue Beck, Jesse Greene, Superintendent W.A. Millis, and Mr. Goss as members, who were to serve for a year.

Miss Sue Beck, the librarian, asked for a raise in salary and was sent to librarian school at Winona, Indiana, at the board’s expense. She was kept on salary, and a substitute, Miss Bessie Bridges, was hired to take her place. This began a long-time tradition of educational benefits for Crawfordsville librarians. In October 1904, Miss Beck’s salary was finally raised to $40.00 per month. Miss Bridges resigned, and a Mr. Petty was hired at $8.00 per month. Dr. Ristine “was given the task of reinstating Bessie Bridges to assistant librarian, to take effect December 1st” (The Crawfordsville Journal: 7 October 1904). This implies a small drama, but a sketchy plot.

In 1903, the Art League was given permission to have a library exhibit during the convention of Indiana Clubs, which was held in May in the new Masonic Temple just across the street. In January 1905, the decorating and furnishing of the children’s room was begun, and on February 21, 1905, new rules for the club room were established, with control of the room vested in the board of trustees. Groups who contributed to the furnishing of the room were: The Ouiatenon Club; The 20th Century Club; The Current events Club; the Athenian Society; The Musical Amateurs; The Art League; The Commercial Club; and finally, the Board of Trustees (School Board.) These organizations were to be able to use the room free of charge for lighting and janitor services (however, an additional lighting charge might be assessed.) Other groups would be asked to make a negotiable contribution. Articles of furniture placed in the room by clubs would remain the property of the club, unless the club relinquished its rights. Those furnishings should not be placed in other parts of the library. To this day the community room policy evolves in about the same manner: rules are set, then exceptions arise and changes develop.

In 1905, Sunday hours came up for discussion. This has also been in recent years an ongoing and changing policy. We now have Sunday hours (added in 1993), a trade off for Friday 5-9. Some patrons continue to mourn that loss, but Sunday hours are very popular and appreciated. Also in 1905, Miss Sue Beck was given a leave without pay from October 1st to June 1st, 1906. Trustee salaries (library committee) were resolved by the city council: W.H. Ristine,  14 months, $116.67; Thomas Munhall, 8 months, $83.35; Henry Campbell, 14 months, $116.67. In July 1905, Miss Gertrude Munhall was hired as assistant librarian at $40.00 per month., however on August 20th 1906, the assistant librarian’s position was established at $30.00 a month. On July 3rd 1906, Miss Beck the librarian was given $50.00 per month, which suggests more drama, tantalizingly vague.

By late summer, the library was preparing to repair the roof, improve the lighting, and to cut a vent in the walls of the club room, and just after the first of the year, $275.00 went to the redecorating of the library. These items, repairs and decorating, are ongoing, staple areas of concern for the school board and its library committee, and, later on, for the independent library board. Through the whole hundred years, these are major concerns: the roof, the paint, the drains, the floors and the landscaping. Minor repairs are ongoing; major repairs crop up much more often than one would expect, especially early on when the building was so pristine. No roof lasts more than a few years, was a lesson learned.

On December 18, 1906, the borrowers’ policies were addressed. Patrons would be able to check out two books at a time, providing that only one should be a work of fiction. Books could be reserved for twenty-four hours, and applicants were to pay two cents in advance for each notification card sent. The library would also purchase duplicates of books in greatest demand. July 1st, 1907, notes the cementing of the library basement at $98.08.

For the entire year, the library was open 307 days. In recent years, this number has increased to 354 days, which includes Sunday.

On July 16, the The Crawfordsville Journal proposed to keep a complete set of weekly and daily papers in the library, according to A.A. McCain, its publisher and owner. These papers are still held by the library.

In 1908 the school board minutes document an ongoing discussion concerning a separate library board. The members of the library committee and others felt that the board had enough heavy school board duties to attend to and that library business was getting short shrift. They petitioned for a separate board. In September of 1908, the city council refused to take action. This matter would come up again, but except for special library committee members as part of the school board, and a book selection committee composed of school board members, the librarian and other citizens, a truly separate library board was not to be for some years.

NOTE: at this point Mary Johnson had to stop her narrative. Until this history is finished, the following Brief History provides an overall glimpse:

Brief History

Crawfordsville had enjoyed a subscription library ever since the late 1830s but possessed no public institution until the end of the 19th century when several local organizations worked to found the Crawfordsville Public Library. The Ladies Library Association was formed to obtain donations of books and magazines as well as to canvass for library funds. In June 1898, the library was opened (on the corner of Main and Water streets, the present location of the Ben Hur building) with nearly 700 books and several hundred volumes of unbound magazines. The library was later relocated to the old YMCA building (the south side of the 100 block of west Main).

In 1900, several members of the Commercial Club requested the assistance of millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie of New York. In a letter to Carnegie, the Commercial Club stated:

Our public library is young, but growing vigorously, and will, in short time, outgrow the storeroom that now contains it. It was started three years ago by the voluntary action of our public spirited people, who, two years ago, turned it over to the city authorities, who now control it. Public sentiment will endorse an annual expenditure from public funds of $2,000 to $3,000 for its support.

In March 1901, the city learned that Carnegie was willing to donate $25,000 for a free public library. The city was required to furnish a site and to support the library to the extent of $2,500 annually. The Carnegie Library/Crawfordsville Public Library was thus constructed on the corner of Washington Street and Wabash Avenue (its present location); the building was made with smooth-cut ashlar stone, and its entrance was accented by unfluted ionic columns (a style common among Carnegie libraries at that time). The library was dedicated on July 29, 1902.

The library was operated in connection with the city schools until 1921 when a separate board was created. Between 1920 and 1940, the library doubled its number of volumes and its borrowers despite small increases in income and staff:

Library Stats: 1920 and 1940
1920 1940
Borrowers 3,970 7,222
Volumes 16,936 39,589
Circulation 26,379 144,075
Income $9,262 $9,307
Salaries $2,879 $3,773
Staff members 3 4

In 1942, the furnaces that had been installed in 1904 were finally replaced. In addition, the library publicized its wish list for improvements:

  • A children’s room separate from the adult reading room.
  • New entrance steps. The old ones are dangerous as well an unsightly.
  • Always more books. They wear out — 1,691 of them in 1940.
  • Floor covering. More space. The basement is full to overflowing with reference volumes and periodical files.
  • Crawfordsville ranked 33rd in population in 1940, but 12th in circulation in the state. We must have an increased plant to keep that good record.

The library has since been remodeled three times. In 1960, the ceilings were lowered. The front stairway was removed in 1969-70 in order to create a ground floor entrance. Finally, in 1976, an adjacent building was purchased, and a remodeling project led to the expansion of the library that was completed in 1979. The renovation created space for a Library Display Gallery, a Children’s Room, a Community Room, and storage. The Special Services Department was modernized in 1995.

The new library opened on September 19, 2005 across the street from the original Carnegie building.


Banta, R.E. “Indiana’s First Libraries.” Indianapolis Star, March 16, 1958.

Bishop, Mary League. Montgomery County Legend and Lore. “County library opened in 1827,” pp. 215-225, (first published in Feb.1977 in Journal Review’s Bicentennial Series) Montgomery County Historical Society, 1988.

Carnegie Foundation Correspondence.

Crawfordsville Journal

The Crawfordsville Journal Review

The Crawfordsville Star

Crawfordsville Schools. Board of Trustees minutes. Various dates.

The Current Events Club. Minutes. 1896-1903.

Fertig, Walter. “Back Roads of the Book World.” Typed manuscript.

Fossett, Cotton. The 23rd Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of Indiana, July, 1906.

Gronert, Theodore. “Early Subscription Libraries in Indiana.” The Crawfordsville Journal Review. 7 April 1960.

Gronert, Theodore. Sugar Creek Saga: a History and Development of Montgomery County. Crawfordsville, IN: Wabash College, 1958.

Henry, W.E. Municipal and Institutional Libraries of Indiana (cited in Bishop’s article)

Keeney, Jere. “Literary Provender,” The Crawfordsville Star, November 28, 1878.

Kettleborough, Charles. Constitution Making in Indiana. Indiana Historical Society 1971.

Weatherholt, Myrtle. History of the Crawfordsville Public Library, 1931. Typed manuscript.