2822 East Washington Street library, “Indianapolis Public Library” “Branch No. 3” claims the distinction of being the oldest Indianapolis public library building still being used for its original purpose. The building is one of the famed “Carnegie Library” series, made possible by multi-millionaire, Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie is widely known as a steel magnate of the Victorian era, chose to grant money for the construction of libraries, which yielded over 2,500 libraries worldwide. The East Washington branch library was granted funds in 1909, and was designed by the architecture firm of Foltz and Parker. The library was dedicated and opened on November 14, 1910. In Carnegie’s letter to Mayor Bookwalter, he indicated that Indianapolis would be granted $120,000 to erect six branch libraries with the caveat that the city provide the sites and furnish $12,000 per year to maintain the libraries. Mere days later, Carnegie Branch Library No. 2 was dedicated at Mount and Ohio Streets, and still stands—though now home to the Hawthorne Center on the west side. Carnegie Branch Library No. 5 was opened in January 1911 at 1928 West Morris Street and was noted to be the “…third of its kind to be erected in Indianapolis.” (The original Morris Street structure appears to have been replaced with a newer building, though the site is still dedicated to a library branch.) It wasn’t until March 1912, that the Spades Library Branch No. 6 was dedicated, and The Indianapolis Star noted this was the fourth of six to be constructed in Indianapolis, leaving some of us to wonder what happened to No. 1 and No. 4.

The guest speaker at the East Washington branch library’s opening was author Meredith Nicholson, who urged that the Bible should be the foundation of every American library. ‘“It is still and will remain for hundreds of years the soundest text-book of literary style and usage in the English language,” he said “and for this, if no other reason, I would advise that every child be taught the Bible, even if its doctrine is not believed.” The Bible, Mr. Nicholson declared, exercises a great influence in modern fiction. Mr. Nicholson offered to present the library with a Bible if it were not already on the shelves. His offer was later accepted by Miss Eliza G. Browning, city librarian.” William M. Taylor, a member of the board of school commissioners, presided at the dedicatory services and explained that the library was to be the neighborhood center and that the auditorium was for the legitimate uses of any society and that demands for its use would be welcome.’

Indeed, a library is a convening place for community—where you can be amongst others while also (theoretically) enjoying the peace of a sacred place of reading and study. This branch has served the area schools as well. In early years, the Lucretia Mott School No. 3 (just behind the library), School No. 15 (at 2302 E. Michigan Street, Holy Cross in the 1400 block of East Ohio and St. Philip Neri at 545 Eastern Avenue all used this library branch as the school library and resource center. Summer reading clubs also effectively enticed area youth to feed their minds with the books on offer.  During World War II, the lower level auditorium was utilized as a space to organize and stage the gathering of reading materials for use of soldiers around the globe—the “Victory Book Campaign,” was part of a national effort, and Indianapolis played its part


Who doesn't feel they are entering a magical place with door handles like this?

...Inside too...

Former Lucretia Mott School No. 3

The library’s exterior has remained essentially unchanged in the past 100 years. The shape of the windows, the detailed hardware and the cozy atmosphere remain all this time later. As the Lucretia Mott School is now being re-purposed into “The Commonwealth,” a mixed income apartments, with community space, community gardens, spacious gym and rooftop soccer/ hockey area. As an outgrowth of the Englewood Christian Church, Englewood Community Development Corporation was formed in 1996 to help foster the development of the area. What was once an innovative school (first open air offering for students with or exposed to tuberculosis) is now an innovative development that will serve as an anchor and kick starter for further redevelopment ion the area. “The Commonwealth,” will offer from Studios to 3-bedroom apartments, ranging from 350 square feet to 1400 square feet, and will retain much of its original charm with the high, decorative ceilings and hardwood floors.  Grass roots efforts like these are an exciting opportunity to be part of a positive change—look for this area to turn around in the coming years as the community pulls together and rebuilds. And go use the East Washington Library Branch—you can appreciate the charming details of 100 years ago with all modern amenities. And speaking of modern, the Englewood CDC even has a facebook page. Or to get started exploring this and other greater downtown communities, stop by the City Gallery-Indy’s Urban Living Center— sort of like matchmakers for those who love arts and community and looking to find ‘home sweet home’ in Indianapolis.

Entrance to "The Commonwealth"

7 responses to “Visit the Oldest Public Library Branch in the City, Englewood’s East Washington Branch”

  1. Virginia Swift Singer says:

    I loved this library (Branch No. 3) and spent hours there as a kid. I recal every part of it. I went to school 3 right around the corner. This was not a happy time of my life and the library was my place to go for an escape.

  2. George Hanlin says:

    Hi, Tiffany. I just saw this post from years ago. I don’t know if it’s the Carnegie library branch number 1 that you mention in your post, but as I deliver Meals on Wheels, I do notice that there’s an old library building that stands at 31st and Clifton (near northwest side), and above the door it says “Public Library Branch No. 1.”

  3. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    Well, well! I will have to look into that! Thanks for the head’s up, George. Love a good unraveling of a mystery or misinformation. My apologies for just seeing this now!

  4. Roberta Russell Ponis says:

    A cousin sent me this piece on the library of my childhood. I lived on Trowbridge Street and attended the Florence Fay school #21 from 1946 to 1954. From there I went to Tech High School, graduating in 1958. During my junior year in high school I worked as a page at the library, loving every minute of being surrounded by books. I helped the circulation stats by carrying home stacks of books, much to my mother’s dismay because I would rather read than do my chores. I loved the fireplace in the children’s room. Hope it is still there. Like so many folks of my era, the library opened my eyes to the world. (my world was pre-computer, pre-tv). My library experience at this Carnegie library must have embedded some marker in my internal consciousness because I ended up as the director of school libraries for Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado. Libraries matter.

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  7. Katessa miedema haynes says:

    I grew up at 2826 E. New York Street (the home burned down years ago) from K-6th grades (1977-1985). I attended School #3 until it closed after my 1st grade year, then I went to school #56 in Brightwood for 2nd grade, They finally placed our neighborhood at School #26 at 16th and what was then Martindale Ave, now Dr. Andrew J Brown. I spent many days at this Library. We always knew it was a Carnegie Library. We could borrow movies on reels as well as a projector to view the films at home. The building was amazing, and we always had story time in the lower level. I was a member of Englewood Christian Church and utilized their Summer Recreation program for youth in the area. Thanks for bringing back memories.

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