Indiana's Carnegie Libraries: "Temples of Knowledge"

Recently I have been doing some research on Indiana's Carnegie libraries, specifically for Monticello's Carnegie Library. I had heard once or twice before that Indiana has more Carnegie libraries than any other state.....oddly enough, it was mentioned as a sort of justification to tear down River City's own Carnegie "in the middle of the night" as some recall.

Andrew Carnegie amassed a fortune in the steel business in Pittsburgh during the latter part of the 19th century. When he sold his company to U. S. Steel and J. P. Morgan in 1901 he increased his philanthropic giving, particularly to support the broad national movement of establishing public libraries. Carnegie funded the construction of 2,509 libraries throughout the English-speaking world. This amounted to $55 million in donations to cities and towns. A total of 1,679 libraries were funded by Carnegie in the United States. More Carnegie libraries were funded in Indiana than in any other state: 164 libraries were funded in 155 Indiana communities at a cost of $2,614,000. Of the 164 library buildings funded by Carnegie in Indiana, only 18 have been razed (according to Alan McPherson in Temples of Knowledge).

Carnegie believed that the public library was “the people’s university” and that it generally supported the betterment of a democratic society. He also believed that libraries enabled immigrants to have a better cultural understanding of America. At the time of his death Carnegie had distributed 90% of his wealth for the betterment of mankind.

Publicly funded county and township libraries in 19th century Indiana were typically poorly housed and had a limited selection of reading materials. An early Indiana philanthropist, William Maclure of New Harmony, had assisted in establishing Mechanics and Workingmen’s Libraries in most of Indiana’s counties. By the end of the 19th century the state seemed culturally ready for the establishment of libraries. Legislation at the state level in 1899 permitted the levy of a local tax for the support of public libraries, supported by business leaders and the power elite. Literary and women’s clubs at the end of the 19th century promoted the idea of better public libraries as well.

A national consciousness of social responsibility to improve one’s community and home had become part of American life during the first decades of the 20th century (ah the good ol days). This further aided the establishment of what many considered a symbol of community pride and intellect: the public library. The decades during which Carnegie funded libraries in Indiana were considered the second half of Indiana’s golden age of literature. While it may seem hard to imagine, the literature produced by Hoosiers created a cultural shift in Indiana as a national demand for works by Indiana authors occurred. This helped to improve and increase the general public perception and receptiveness of literature and culture in Indiana.

Monticello's public library can trace its roots to 1903 when White County’s superintendent of public schools, J. W. Hamilton, began to urge officials to establish a library. A public library board was created on March 4, 1903. A tax was levied by Monticello on property owners for the operation of the library. Over 800 books were received from a book drive that was held in town to build the library’s inventory. Additional books were purchased to bring the total to 1,025 and on the afternoon of September 1, 1903, the Monticello Public Library was opened to the public.

The library had been housed in two rooms of the courthouse until demand for a permanent home for the library resulted in a letter to Andrew Carnegie in 1905. The letter requested information on what steps would need to be taken to request funds for the construction of a library building. Carnegie responded with a commitment of $10,000 for a building in Monticello.

Some interesting tidbits from the Monticello library during the World Wars: in 1918 the library received a letter from the Public Library Commissioner that requested all libraries remove books on explosives. During World War II a “memorial shelf” was created in the library to feature local men who were enlisted in the military. Nora Gardner, the librarian who served from 1903-1947, organized a Victory Book Drive in 1942 to provide reading material for the military. Local Boy Scouts assisted with the effort by placing large containers in locations for people to drop off books. 1,150 books were collected by the Monticello library and sent to Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois.

The Monticello Carnegie was designed by Indiana architect Charles E. Kendrick of Ft. Wayne and Rochester. Kendrick also designed Carnegie libraries in Kewanna, Crown Point, Delphi, and Ligonier. A unique feature of Monticello's Carnegie is its corner entrance. Only one other Indiana Carnegie had a corner entry; it was located in Columbus but was demolished in 1970. The library also has a window bay that overlooks the Tippecanoe River, another feature not often found on Carnegies. The building now houses the White County Historical Society Museum. If you're wondering what that tower-looking thing on the ground next to the building is, it came off the Monticello City Hall in 1974, the year a tornado devastated the downtown and destroyed their historic courthouse.


Jim said…
I've seen a lot of Carnegie libraries in my tours of Indiana. I'm getting pretty good at recognizing one when I see one. But I would not have guessed that this was one -- it is an unusual design among the Carnegie libraries I've seen.
vanilla said…
Well researched and nicely written presentation. Thanks for sharing this.
Kestrel said…
Interesting post, and you know me I had to do a little further digging!. The Wikipedia post for Carnegie Libraries in Indiana has a picture of the Methodist Church in Plymouth as our "Carnegie library" perhaps you could update the photo with a historic one of the old library?
Unfortunately it was torn down, that decision will always be called into question........
hoosier reborn said…
Jim-it is unusual. I think even more unusual is finding a library of this era that ISN'T a Carnegie. Seriously-I don't think I know of any.

Anonymous said…
The Knightstown Public Library locate at 5 East Main Street (National Road) will hold a Centennial Celebration and Open House will be on Saturday, June 2nd at 3 pm. Guest speakers include State Senator Beverly Gard and Roberta Brooks from the Indiana State Library. The library is opening the 1912 time capsule and we are placing a 2012 capsule to commemorate the next 100 years. Refreshments will be available and the 1912 contents will be on display. Please follow the link to learn more of this Carnegie Library's History:
Anonymous said…
Me and my family used to come to this town every summer and camp at a small campground along the Tippecanoe River. I remember an old abandoned house on the right hand side of the road before going into the campground entrance. As kids we would call it Aunt Haddies House. We would walk down town to this library almost every day. It had a wonderful smell of books and wood. I was about 8 years old so that was back in 1969. We would also go to the soda shop and restaurant on the corner of town all the time. Can’t remember the name of it but there were historical homes everywhere. Nice memories. My mom and dad were very good friends of the owners of the campground we went to. I used to hangout with the daughter Colleen, can’t remember the last name, but very fond memories.

Popular Posts