A Timeline of Willard Library

August 23, 1876

A letter was sent to the Library trustees from Willard Carpenter, outlining his plans and wishes for "THE WILLARD LIBRARY."

August 23, 1876

The property on which the Library and Park would sit, as well as the property that would endow the project, was deeded to the Library trustees by Willard and Lucina Carpenter.

May 16, 1877

Groundbreaking was held for the Library.

August 13, 1877

The stone foundation of the Library was completed to top of the water table.

September 2, 1877

The stonework was finished, and a construction hiatus began.


Wishing to see the Library completed in his lifetime and impatient with waiting for land values to increase, Willard Carpenter urges that the work resume. It did.

An Architectural Note

Terra cotta was used extensively for exterior decorations on the Victorian Gothic building, including the owls that represent wisdom.

March 15, 1883

Willard Carpenter celebrated his 80th birthday at a party with the other Trustees of Willard Library.

November 3, 1883

Willard Carpenter died several days after suffering a paralyzing stroke, and before seeing the completion of the Library.


When the Library first opened its doors to newspaper reviewers, a reporter noted that there wasn't enough light fiction on the shelves.

Empty Arches?

Construction money ran out before stone carvers could be hired to finish the rosettes on the points of the window arches.

March 28, 1885

Opening ceremonies of Willard Library are conducted, despite horrendous weather conditions.

January 1887

The City Council released Willard Library real estate from delinquent and current taxes and from assessments for improvements, in exchange for 296 feet of frontage on Water Street adjacent to the City Wharf.

November 1887

John E. Iglehart purchased from the Library five-and-a-half acres of land in the vicinity of what is now Bayard Park.


Mr. Garvin was authorized to purchase $400 worth of new books for the Library in Great Britain during a trip he planned to take.


Changes were made to the Library's pre-indoor-plumbing "water closets" to put them in good condition. One wonders what those changes might have been.


A halt was put on loaning books until more books could be purchased, and patrons were required to return borrowed books immediately... although the reason for this has been lost to history.


4,763 new books arrived at the Library, at a cost of $3,229; Mr. Evans was reimbursed $18.35 for expenses he had incurred in purchasing them.

August 1896

Suit was brought against Willard Library by Willard Carpenter's daughter Louise, to recover property held by the Library. In the suit, the would-be heiress, having been snubbed by her father, claimed that he had been of unsound mind and had been unduly influenced in establishing the Library. The court found in favor of the Library.


During a game of tag, 11-year old Roy Kightly took a twelve-foot fall from the top of the Library's entry steps (then without a railing) into the adjacent basement stairwell, striking his head on the stone steps. Young Roy was made from stern stuff; he walked home afterward.


The Library issued 35 twenty-year coupon bonds of $500 each, to pay existing debts and construct property improvements. The bonds were purchased by the First National Bank.


The Library received a portrait of Henry F. Blount as a gift from Blount.


An attempt was made to establish an art gallery in the Library. A newly formed Art Association held fundraisers and art exhibits and provided the board with the fruits of their labors - ;namely, $335.13. But two years later, art still had not been purchased with the money. Efforts to raise funds for an art collection continued for 10 years. The gallery never came to fruition.


Martha Orr Bayard purchased the land for Bayard Park from the Trustees of Willard Library in four installments between 1900 and 1905, as a memorial to her late husband, Samuel.


Martha Orr Bayard bequeathed to Willard Library the books in her husband's library, to be used as reference books, along with funds to purchase cases for the books. These are housed in the second-floor Bayard Room, in memory of Samuel and "Mattie" Orr Bayard.

Library Rules in an Earlier Time

Rules and regulations of Willard Library by order of the Board of Trustees, posted circa 1910, included six directives. They addressed the minimum age for use of the reading room (age 12); conversation and conduct (consistent with quiet and order); the need to register as a borrower; and the period for which books could be borrowed (2 weeks, with 2-week renewal). The page of rules also warned of the penalty for defacing books; (writing, tearing, or other injury was subject to fine and “suspension from the privileges of the Library”). Perhaps one would have been better off to have lost a book, the penalty for which was payment of the replacement cost of the book.


Edmund L. Craig, president of the public library board of Evansville, proposed that all libraries in the city be brought under common supervision. The Willard Board responded that they could not consider the proposal, since the terms of the Carpenter Trust forbade the corporation from operating buildings other than on Willard Park.


The Library trustees prepared a booklet which included the history of the Library and a biography of Willard Carpenter. The biography mentions that Carpenter was the agent at Evansville of the Underground Railroad and that for years he helped escaping slaves.


Katherine Imbusch became Head Librarian. She had worked at Willard Library since 1895. She was later praised in John E. Iglehart's history of Vanderburgh County, for her "courteous manner, accommodating treatment, and highly efficient work."

May 1919

The Willard Library Board petitioned the Evansville Park Board to cooperate in making the Library grounds a nice public park. Since that time, the city has provided grass cutting, occasional driveway repair, and, in flush times, plantings.

October 3, 1919

Well-loved Head Librarian Otilda Goslee died at age 76. Perhaps her greatest contribution to the Library was to firmly establish the tradition of warm, friendly service for which Willard Library had become known, and is still known today.


Permission was granted by Willard Library for a large collection of Native American artifacts to be displayed by the Southwestern Indiana Historical Society, on the second floor of the Library. The collection remained on display there until 1928, when the Evansville Museum opened.


Head Librarian Katherine Imbusch died. Sara Denton, a Library Trustee who had also been serving as assistant librarian, became Head Librarian. (Denton, a widow, later remarried and became Sara Davidson.)


A night janitor at the Library reported seeing an 'all-grey' lady, with grey shoes and grey veil, as he entered the basement during his 3 a.m. visit to stoke the coal furnace. He was so startled that he dropped his flashlight. He reported that the image then dissolved into shadows. The night janitor quit his job shortly thereafter.


A two-year WPA project began to bind the Library's newspapers. Work was conducted in a basement room. Workers had complained about the damp brick floor, so a layer of wood was added over the floor in the room.

September 1941

Gray Davis Williams of Indianapolis was hired as Head Librarian at a salary of $150 per month.

April 13, 1942

In response to the request of Head Librarian Gray Williams to move the children's section (with its 8,000 books) to two unused rooms in the basement, the Library Board allocated $300 for the project. Within 47 days, the new Children's Room was complete, thanks to the efforts of the librarians and volunteers.


The Library began a tradition that continued throughout generations, with the first Summer Reading Club for young people.

February 20, 1943

The Library held its first children's story hour, with Margaret Maier as storyteller.

April 1943

Anticipating wartime shortages, one of the Library trustees moved that Head Librarian Gray Williams be instructed to order as much coal as could possibly be stored in the Library, for use during the winter of 1944.


Throughout the war, used books withdrawn from circulation were donated to military bases, with books in German going to prisoners of war facilities. Two hundred and forty volumes were put aboard an LST that sailed from the Evansville Shipyard on Christmas Eve, 1944.


Head Librarian Gray Williams and several volunteers took about 200 books every Monday night to the City Trailer Camp north of town where hundreds of war workers were living. Because of their work schedules, the workers could not come to the Library during regular hours.

May 1944

The Board gave the Evansville School Corporation permission to use part of Willard Park for recreational purposes.


During 1949, in addition to books furnished to elderly ladies at the Rathbone Home and to the girls at the Christian Home, more than 1,200 books were loaned to patients at Welborn Hospital.


Willard Library's first Easter Egg Tree, inspired by the Katherine Milhous book Egg Tree, was created by children's librarian Margaret Maier. The Willard Library Easter Egg Tree became an annual tradition, later featuring eggs decorated as literary characters.

June 13, 1953

A storm caused serious damage to the Library building, requiring considerable repair to the tower and roof.

November 1953

After his death, the historical papers of Judge John E. Iglehart came to Willard Library. This was the beginning of Willard's collection of original local history source materials.

November 1954

The Library was used as a polling place during the election. Head Librarian Mrs. Williams found the process most interesting, but noted that it put the janitor so out of his routine that all he could manage for the next two days was to stoke the furnace twice a day.

October 1, 1956

Gray Williams retired as Head Librarian, and Marcia Wheeler was promoted to that post. Williams' approach to patron service, her philosophy of book selection, many of the procedures she inaugurated, and the special collections she began, became the foundation of many of the operations at Willard Library.


The arrival of television in Evansville created an unexpected upswing in circulation of children's books. Nearly 11,000 more books were checked out (than in the previous year) by children whose interest in various topics had been piqued by television programs.

February 1957

A microfilm viewer was installed. Film of the Evansville Gazette, published between 1821 and 1824, was ordered from the Library of Congress and the Indiana State Library; and the Evansville Courier was being put on film.


Book circulation was on the upswing, with 5,729 more books checked out than in the previous year.

February 1958

The Library received a gift of $1,000 from Bessie Thrall, along with a letter asking "that the gift appear on the records as an endowment, the annual income of which shall be used to add to the present store of whatever things are good, true and (or) beautiful—preferably in the realm of art." That endowment was increased by subsequent gifts from Thrall in later years, and the interest was used to build a collection of art books and recordings.