The three-year span from 1903 to 1906 identifies the groundwork period, building and completion of Monticello’s Carnegie Library, which is now the White County Historical Society.
There were 2,509 Carnegie libraries in the U.S. Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, and was the son of a linen weaver. At age 13, the family immigrated to the United States in 1848 to Allegheny, Pa.
Andrew was a voracious reader, which is how he received his education. It was this reading passion that ultimately led to his philanthropic dream of providing first-class libraries around the world.
Who was this Andrew Carnegie fellow? In his youth, Mr. Carnegie was a Western Union messenger and later a telegraph operator. Carnegie gradually moved up and became superintendent of the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
It is during this time that he invested in a new company that manufactured railway sleeping cars. This enterprise later folded into a partnership with George Pullman to provide sleeping cars for the trans-continental railroad.
Later, Carnegie entered into the business of building bridges, locomotives and rail track. In 1865, he organized the first of his many companies, the Keystone Bridge Company. Carnegie’s first steel works began in 1873. The steel company prospered, and by 1900 it produced more metal than all of Great Britain.
His steel company prospered, and when Carnegie sold the company to J.P. Morgan in 1901, the Carnegie Company was valued at more than $400 million.
Carnegie’s philanthropic career began around 1870. He is best known for his gifts of free public library buildings. His first such gift was to his native Dunfermline in 1881, and it was followed by similar gifts to 2,509 communities in the English-speaking world.
How is it that Indiana topped the list for the number of Carnegie libraries?
Indiana has 164 libraries with the Carnegie nameplate. A distant second is California with 142. What possible reason can there be for this gracious and benevolent giving to the Hoosier state?
Actually, there were two reasons. First, Carnegie owned many of his steel mills in northwestern Indiana. These mills generated much of his fortune. Second, Mr. Carnegie detested the New England states due to their arrogance and lifestyle. Mr. Carnegie worshiped the concept of hard work, long hours and determination.
I guess that good ole’ Midwestern Hoosier value system won the day.
Today this same work ethic is still alive a well in the “Heartland of America” called the Hoosier state. The hard work and attitudes of the workers in Indiana paid huge dividends from philanthropist Carnegie even back at the dawn of the 20th century. I, for one, love it!
In White County, Carnegie funded three libraries. These were located in Monon, Brookston and Monticello.
The movement for a Carnegie library in Monticello started in 1903. Early in 1903, Superintendent of Monticello Schools John W. Hamilton published several articles in the area papers requesting support for a new library. His articles centered on garnering support for such an enterprise which, in turn, received support from the area churches and especially by the Presbyterian minister Reverend Harris G. Rice.
With the help of several local clergymen, Mr. Hamilton was successful in attracting support for a public library from several local businessmen. A subscription paper was circulated and 52 men each donated $8. The $416 was used to organize the beginnings of a public library.
On March 4, 1903, the following were appointed to serve on a Library Board of Trustees: Attorney William H. Hamelle and Mrs. Truman F. Palmer were appointed by the Town Council; J.W. Hamilton and Mrs. Dr. Madison T. Didlake were appointed by the school board; and Dr. Joseph D. McCann, Mrs. Edmund Randolph Brown, and Miss Anna Magee were appointed by the Judge of the Circuit Court.
The assembled group would have to be considered “The Dream Team.” Every member of the team would have to be classified as “movers and shakers” of Monticello.
In 1905, J.W. Hamilton was elected president of the library board and he wrote to Carnegie to ask for funds to build a library. On Jan. 20, 1906, an offer of $10,000 for a building was made by Carnegie, provided the board would ensure a building site and $1,000 yearly for its support.
The Town Council appropriated $1,000 yearly for public library purposes and after due consideration, the board purchased the lot, located at East Broadway and Tippecanoe Street, from Adam Bennett for $1,000. This money was donated by 48 civic-minded men.
It is noted that Tippecanoe Street was later renamed Bluff Street. This location was perfect due to its central and attractive location overlooking the Tippecanoe River.
The architect contracted to design the library was Charles E. Kendrick, of Fort Wayne, and the contractor to whom the task of building the structure was Levindouski of Lafayette.
Miss Nora Gardner organized all of the area clubs to sponsor the cost of furnishing the library. Her efforts totaled $500 which provided the new library with three reading tables, 28 chairs and a charging desk, a newspaper rack, three dozen folding chairs for the lecture room and an $11 book fund.
Upon completion of the building in August 1907, the current library was moved from the courthouse to its new home at 101 S. Bluff St.
Gardner, a Monticello native, was the first librarian. The Nickel Plate Club donated the grandfather clock at their June 26, 1909, meeting. This very clock is housed in the current Union Township Public Library and the image of the clock is used as their logo, linking the past with the future.
A concerted effort was made in 1919 to build an addition to the Carnegie facility. The addition proposed by Gardner and other citizens called for a second story to be added to the building. The Carnegie Library Corporation was providing funding contracts for those libraries that had outgrown their present quarters. This indeed was the case with the local Monticello library.
By 1919, the library had no room for additional bookshelves nor did it have any larger meeting rooms or adequate reading rooms. At this time, Hamilton was now secretary of the Indiana Library Commission. With a former Monticello resident’s recommendation to the Carnegie Corporation, the community felt confident that building a third story would certainly be approved.
The concept was to have the basement level dedicated to historical archives and relics while the main floor could become reading rooms and additional shelving areas, and the new top floor would be utilized for club rooms and public meetings. It is apparent from the look of the present structure that this addition was not realized.
On Dec. 11, 1947, Gardner, who never fully recovered from a stroke that she had a few years earlier, resigned as librarian. Gardner’s 43 years as librarian resided for most of her life at 122 S. Bluff St.
One must tip their hat to Gardner for expanding the programming and advancement of library. Her leadership as the first librarian is yet found today in the robust Monticello-Union Township Public Library. She would be proud of the tradition she set which survives today in serving the public needs for the community.
Gardner died on May 16, 1949, and is interred in Riverview Cemetery.