Reader’s Question:

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I heard that the CEO of the Indianapolis Public Library was conducting tours of IPL facilities all around the city. I’m curious to know when Indianapolis first opened a public library and where the early library branches were located. ~  David B., Indianapolis     

HI’s Answer: 

Within a few years after Indianapolis was founded, libraries began to be established in various locations around town. However, their collections were limited in subject matter and availability.  The Indiana Law Library and the Indianapolis Bar Association Library contained legal volumes.  The Indiana Medical Society’s books pertained to medicine.  Many churches had libraries, but their materials were mostly religious in content and were available only to members of their own congregations.  The Young Men’s Christian Association Reading Room also had books that were religiously oriented.  The State Library had a wider collection than most of the other libraries, but its original mission was to support the work of state government officials.  The few libraries that offered a broader range of subjects — like novels, poetry, philosophy, and pamphlets — were private subscription libraries. Because their revenues were not consistent, and because their hours of operation were erratic, these libraries were generally short-lived.

It wasn’t until after the Civil War that citizens began to lobby for a public library that would be funded by tax dollars and available to all citizens at no charge. In 1868, Reverend Hanford A. Edson (1837-1920) of the Memorial Presbyterian Church (now known as the Second Presbyterian Church) preached a sermon on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in which he made an impassioned plea for a public library.  His enthusiastic support of the value of reading and related intellectual pursuits inspired a group of citizens to form the Indianapolis Library Association.  Its members turned over their own personal collections of books to start a public library.  The group held meetings to determine a course of action that would lead to the ongoing funding of a public library for all of the city’s residents.  The association met in the Vinton Block, a popular mixed-use building on the southwest corner of Market and Pennsylvania Streets.  Today, 50 N. Pennsylvania Street is the site of an 8-story parking garage.

Newspaper photo of the Vinton Block on the southwest corner of Market and Pennsylvania Streets as it appeared in 1928 (courtesy of The Indianapolis Star)

Newspaper photo of the Vinton Block on the southwest corner of Market and Pennsylvania Streets as it appeared in 1928 (courtesy of The Indianapolis Star)

The first Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, Abraham Crum Shortridge (1833-1919), was eager to take up the cause, as well. Shortridge felt that free public libraries went hand-in-hand with free public schools.  In 1870, Shortridge worked with the members of the Indianapolis Library Association to draft a bill to present to the next session of the Indiana State legislature.  It passed!  So that the funds could be provided from taxes already being collected for educational purposes, the library was placed under the jurisdiction of the Indianapolis School Board.

Superintendent Shortridge had recently succeeded in acquiring the former Baptist Female Seminary on the northeast corner of Michigan and Pennsylvania Streets.  That structure was about to become the new home of Indianapolis High School, which had outgrown it first location in Circle Hall on Monument Circle.  Shortridge happily designated a portion of the high school building to house the new Indianapolis Public Library.  Today, the former site of Indianapolis’ first public library is the location of the Minton-Capehart Federal Building.

The first home of the Indianapolis Public Library was in a portion of the Indianapolis High School (photo from 1981 book by Laura Sheerin Gaus)

The first home of the Indianapolis Public Library was in the Indianapolis High School building at Michigan and Pennsylvania  (photo from 1981 History of Shortridge High School by Laura Sheerin Gaus)

The Indianapolis Public Library opened its doors to the public on April 8, 1873, with about 12,000 volumes.  The library was open every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., including Saturday and Sunday.  The first librarian was named Charles Evans. He enjoyed a long and highly respected career in library work.

June 19, 1934 Indianapolis Star article about former director of the Indianapolis Public Library

June 19, 1934 Indianapolis Star reported about former   Indianapolis Public Library Director, Charles Evans

The public library was a huge success.  In its first full year of operation, more than 3,000 patrons borrowed more than 100,000 books during that twelve-month period.

(1873 Indianapolis Directory courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)

(1873 Indianapolis City Directory courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)       CLICK TO ENLARGE

October 17, 1973 clipping from The Indianapolis News

October 17, 1973 clipping from The Indianapolis News

Donations of books to the library, as well as purchases of books by the Indianapolis School Board, resulted in the need for a larger facility. From 1876 to 1884, the Indianapolis Public Library was located on the southwest corner of Monument Circle and Meridian Street.  No photo of that building could be found.  In 1923, the 9-story Guaranty Building was constructed at 20 North Meridian Street, which survives today.

(1876 Indianapolis City Directory courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)

(1876 Indianapolis City Directory courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)  CLICK TO ENLARGE

From 1884 to 1893, the library was located on the southwest corner of Ohio and Pennsylvania Streets.  The original building on the lot was a 3-story residence built in the 1840s by Elijah S. Alvord, owner of several stagecoach lines headquartered in Indianapolis. Alvord had sold his home of several decades and moved to Washington, D.C.  The Indianapolis School Commissioners arranged a ten-year option on the property with its new owner, Edward F. Claypool (1832-1911).  The School Commissioners occupied the former Alvord residence, and the Indianapolis Public Library occupied two newer buildings that had been added on to the home.  When the 10-year option period expired, IPS declined to exercise it and instead built a new building one block west of it. In 1901, the structures on this corner were replaced by the 7-story Newton Claypool Building.  Newton Claypool was Edward’s son.  In 1990, the Newton Claypool Building was replaced by a portion of Chase Tower, now the tallest building in Indiana.

From 1885 to 1893, both the Indianapolis Public Library and the offices of Indianapolis Schools were located on the southwest corner of Ohio and Pennsylvania Streets (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of Indiana Historical Society)

From 1884 to 1893, both IPL and IPS were located in the former Alvord home on the corner of Ohio and Pennsylvania Streets        (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

(1887 Sanborn map courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)

(1887 Sanborn map courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)                 CLICK TO ENLARGE

In 1893, the new home for both the Indianapolis Public Library and the Indianapolis Public Schools was erected on the southwest corner of Ohio and Meridian Streets.  Although the Central Library eventually moved one last time, the building at 150 North Meridian Street remained the headquarters of the Indianapolis Public Schools until 1967. When the present IPS Education Center was erected at 120 East Walnut Street, the property at Ohio and Meridian was replaced with a Hilton Hotel.  Today, it operates as a Sheraton Hotel.

August 21, 1893 clipping from The Indianapolis StarNews

August 21, 1893 clipping from The Indianapolis News

The Indianapolis Public Library was located on the southwest corner of Ohio and Meridian Streets from 1885 to 1917 (Wm. H. Bass PHoto Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

From 1893 to 1917, IPL and the offices of IPS were both located on the southwest corner of W. Ohio and N. Meridian Streets      (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

In 1917, the original portion of the Indianapolis Public Library was constructed on the north side of East St. Clair Street, between Meridian and Pennsylvania Streets.  An interesting fact is that a sizable portion of the land on which the library was built was donated to the Indianapolis School Board by James Whitcomb Riley in 1911, five years before his death. It was his desire to distribute his wealth while he was still alive, so that he could see the benefits of his gift while he was living.  Riley owned three adjacent lots on the west side of Pennsylvania Street, beginning at the corner of East St. Clair Street.  They were valued at $75,000 in 1911.  That amount is equivalent to almost $2,000,000 today.

1917 image of the new Indianapolis Public Library , soon after its opening at 40 East Saint Clair Street (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of Indiana Historical Society)

1917 photograph of the Indianapolis Public Library, soon after it was completed at 40 East Saint Clair Street   (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

August 10, 1917 article in The Indianapolis Star

August 10, 1917 article in The Indianapolis Star                   CLICK TO ENLARGE 

Branch libraries were established under the administration of Eliza G. Browning (1856-1927).  In 1896, four branches were opened in rented spaces in commercial buildings.  The concept of branch libraries was not readily supported by everyone in the community, due to the their expense, but Eliza Browning was nonetheless determined to put libraries in the neighborhoods. In 1906, the first freestanding library branch was built with local funds at 3101 North Clifton Street.  Branch Library #1 was also called the Riverside Branch.

March 14, 1906 clipping inThe Indianapolis Star

March 14, 1906 clipping in The Indianapolis Star

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #1 was completed in 1906 (Wm. H. Basss Company Collection, courtesy of Indiana Historical Society)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #1, also called Riverside Branch, was built with local funds in 1906 at 3101 N. Clifton St.               (Wm. H. Bass Company Collection, courtesy of theIndiana Historical Society)

In 1907, the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners entered into negotiations with Andrew Carnegie to fund additional library branches.  In 1909, Carnegie finally came through with $120,000 for the construction of six IPL branches.  Ultimately, only five libraries were built.

Letter from Andrew Carnegie agreeing to donate $120,000 for the construction of six new libraries (Lawrence J. Downey Library History Collectin, courtesy of Indiana Public Library)

Letter from Andrew Carnegie agreeing to donate $120,000 for the construction of six new libraries  (Lawrence J. Downey Library History Collection, courtesy of the Indianapolis Public Library)     CLICK TO ENLARGE

The neighborhood libraries soon became not only educational centers, but social centers, as well. Children met there to do their homework and to connect with their friends.  Neighborhood organizations often used a room in the library for meetings.

IPL Branch Library #2 was also known as the Hawthorne Branch (Lawrence J. Downey Library History Collection courtesy of the Indianapolis Public Library)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #2, also known as the Hawthorne Branch, was built in 1911 at 170 North Mount Street       (Lawrence J. Downey Library History Collection courtesy of the Indianapolis Public Library)

Indianapolis Public Library #3 at 2922 East Washington Street (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of Indiana Historical Society)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #3 was built at 2822 East Washington Street with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie                   (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #4 (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #4 was built at 1034 South Alabama Street with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie    (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #5 was built at 1912 West Morris Street in 1911 with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie (Lawrence J. Downey Library History Collection courtesy of the Indianapolis Public Library)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #5 was built at 1912 West Morris Street in 1911 with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie (Lawrence J. Downey Library History Collection courtesy of the Indianapolis Public Library)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #6 was built at 1801 Nowland Avenue with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #6 was built at 1801 Nowland Avenue with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie (Wm. H. Bass Photo Company Collection, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

By 1917, there were twelve branch libraries and several delivery stations in the Indianapolis Public Library system.

The 1917 Indianapolis City Directory listed twelve branches and seven delivery stations (courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)

The 1917 Indianapolis City Directory listed twelve branches and seven delivery stations  (courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)          CLICK TO ENLARGE

A few of the early branch library buildings are still standing today, but not all of them still function as libraries.  Branches #1 and #2 remain but are no longer libraries.  Branches #4 and #6 remain and still operate as libraries.  Sadly, Branches #4 and #5 have been demolished — the former to make way for Interstate 70 and the latter for the construction of the Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center.

The former IPL Branch #1 building at 3101 North Clifton Avenue still stands today (2016 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The former IPL Branch #1 building at 3101 North Clifton Avenue still stands today, although it is no longer used as a library    (2016 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The former IPL Branch #2 building still exists today but is no longer used as a library (2013 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

The former IPL Branch #2 building at 170 North Mount Street is still standing today, but is no longer used as a public library (2013 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

IPL Branch #3 at 2822 East Washington Street still operates as a neighborhood library today (2016 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

IPL Branch #3, one of the five library branches funded by Andrew Carnegie in 1909, still operates as a branch library today  (2016 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #6 was built with a donation from Andrew Carnegie and still functions as a library today (2015 photo courtesy of Google maps)

Indianapolis Public Library Branch #6 was built with a donation from Andrew Carnegie and still functions as a library today
(2015 photo courtesy of Google maps)

There is much more history to be told about the Indianapolis Public Library, after its relocation to 40 East St. Clair Street in 1917.  Next year will mark the library’s 100th year in its present location.  As the reader’s question asked about the library system’s early years, that was the focus of this article.  The last century of the library’s history may be a topic for a future article.