History of the Adams Public Library System

The Adams Public Library System was established on February 22, 2008, with the consolidation of the Decatur and Geneva Public Libraries.

After a planning committee comprised of members of both library board of trustees as well as the librarians met over the course of a year to develop a plan of consolidation, members of both boards signed Resolutions of Merger to form the new system. Providing a consistent level of service, enhancing programming and collections, and stability in funding were some reasons advocated by both boards.

Early Libraries in Adams County, Indiana

In 1819, three years after Indiana was admitted to the Union, the first cabin was erected in what is now Adams County, Indiana. Nearly 25 years before, General Anthony Wayne had secured a treaty with the Indians, thus opening the way for settlement of the area, but the low, swampy land offered little enticement to the pioneer. Among the later counties to be formed, Adams evolved from Knox, Randolph, and Allen counties, successively, as each of these larger county units was reorganized into smaller ones. The 336 square miles comprising Adams County were not surveyed until 1822. Although the first land entry came in 1825, only four known settlers had located there before 1826. In 1833 the land was formed into a new township, still part of Allen County. Adams County was created by an act of the Indiana General Assembly in 1836, and in 1838 the general rush of landhunters came. The beginnings of Adams County were slow. Amazingly enough, however, by 1843 funds were set aside for a county library.

The Adams County Library of 1843

The Adams County library of 1843 did not come into being by chance. With judicious foresight the framers of the constitution of Indiana had placed within it a provision for county libraries. The law of 1816 stated that upon the creation of a new county the Indiana General Assembly,

“shall cause at least ten per cent to be reserved out of the proceeds of the sale of town lots in the seat of justice for such county; and, at the same session, they shall incorporate a library company under such rules and regulations as will best secure its permanence and extend its benefits.”

An act of 1824 again provided that 10 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of town lots at the county seat be set aside for the use of the county library.

Another important factor to the development of the county library was the pioneer himself. This was especially true in Adams County, for most of the early settlers came from the Middle Atlantic states, where libraries were already beginning to develop.

When Adams County was organized in 1836, a group of disinterested commissioners was set up temporarily to choose the county seat. They were empowered either to buy the site at a reasonable price or to arrange to accept it as a gift from some donor interested in determining the site. Because the commissioners were but a temporary group, they could not accept the land; therefore the donor had to give bond ascertaining that he would donate the land when the duly elected commissioners came into office. After receiving and considering various proposals, the locating commissioners of Adams County accepted the one offered by Samuel Johnson. In the event that his town site were accepted, Johnson promised to give the sum of $3,100, of which $500 would be paid in one year from the date of the bond and the remainder in three years. The county seat, named Decatur, was thus selected in 1836. 

According to the Adams County Commissioners’ Record, dated June 7, 1843, the payment on Johnson’s bond and its interest, a total of $385.36, was set aside for the use of the county library in 1843. The commissioners had interpreted the sum as that designated by law for the incorporation of the county library.

From there on, the record is incomplete. The county commissioner’s record shows the library expenditures from time to time and states that in 1845 the county commissioners of Adams County resolved themselves into a library board.

In 1846 the librarian, William A. Bugh, was authorized to purchase a number of books, the cost of which amounted to $325. Included were 17 biographies, 10 essays, 26 histories, and several books on political economy, religion, travel, poetry, and Shakespeare. The first group of books purchased was known as the “Evangelical Family Library.” The following are representative titles: Rise and Progress, Pilgrim’s Progress, Guide to Young Disciples, Bible Thoughts, Of Page and Hobbie, Mother and Child at Home, Life of Moses, Mammon and Weakness, and Sabbath Intemperance. 

The county library was shelved in the county treasurer’s office in Decatur. The book collection numbered around 136 volumes, according to the official record. 

One volume of the original collection, a book entitled Scripture Biography for the Young, is owned by the Decatur Public Library. Its bookplate, numbered 213, states the following rules:

All Books borrowed from the county Library are to be returned in Two Months. If not returned within that time, a penalty of Five cents for every five days, will be charged, from the expiration of the time until the Book is returned – to be paid by the borrower.

What became of the county library is not definitely known, but apparently it went out of existence by the mid-1850’s. Presumably it was the county collection that provided the basis for receiving the Maclure Workingmen’s library, which was to supersede the county library in Adams County.

The Maclure Workingmen’s Institute

Far from Adams County a decision was made in 1837 that was to play a part in the development of its libraries. In Mexico William Maclure gave new life through correspondence to the Workingmen’s Institute, which he had founded in New Harmony, Indiana, and he placed an order with a London bookseller for books to the value of $1,000. Unfortunately he died in 1840 before he could return to New Harmony to set up a trust for his dream of a model library and institute. In his will, however, Maclure had made provision for a system of libraries for Workingmen’s institutes. Despite long opposition from the Maclure heirs, the estate was finally converted into funds in 1855, and the distribution of money began.

Citizens of Decatur, Indiana, were among the 144 groups which styled themselves as “Workingmen’s Institutes” in order to receive $500 according to Maclure’s will. The requirements were simple: the group had merely to show that they were laborers and had a library of 100 volumes. 

Where the Maclure Workingmen’s library was kept, how it was administered, who was the librarian, and exactly how long it was in operation – these are unanswered questions. Evidently it shared the fate of most of the other Maclure Workingmen’s libraries, which dwindled away because of incompetent supervision and the lack of established quarters. No money was provided either by taxation or by endowment fund to rebuild the collection; hence by the advent of the Civil War most of the Maclure libraries were no more.

The Decatur Public Library has preserved one book of the Maclure library collection, a volume entitled Memoirs of the Queens of France. The bookplate reads:

This Book is taken from the library on this express condition, that it shall be returned within sixty days. If not returned within that time, a penalty of five cents for each week will be charged from the expiration of the time; if lost, destroyed or damaged, the librarian shall assess and collect, the value or damage done to such book.

Poorly organized and short-lived though they were, the Maclure libraries paved the way for the township libraries. In Adams County, as in the rest of Indiana, the next phase in the development of libraries was the township library.

The Township Libraries

The provision for township libraries was part of the school law of 1852. The law provided for a tax of a quarter of a mill on the dollar, or 25 cents on $1,000, and a poll tax of 25 cents, the proceeds of which were to be used exclusively to purchase township libraries. Levies were to be set for only two years.

The law also required the purchase of complete libraries. Because six was the established number of libraries for an area of less than 10,000 population, it appears that Adams County, with a population of 5,797 according to the Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, received six. In the revised school law of 1855 improvement was made in the distribution of these libraries, and the tax was continued for another year.

Two important weaknesses in the law were evident by 1860. In the first place, the books were in the care of the township trustees, many of who lacked interest in the library. Second, the law provided no means for funds to increase the number of books or to repair them. However, after the Civil War a law was passed providing a tax of one tenth of a mill on the dollar, or one cent on $100 for township library support. Small though the amount may appear, it would have been a boon to the township libraries had it not been for the action of Superintendent of Public Instruction Hoss in 1866. At that time he recommended that the township library fund, which totaled around $50,000, be used to erect the Normal School at Terre Haute. A law to that end was passed March 8, 1867, and the following day another law was passed repealing the tax altogether.

The whole account of the development of the township libraries in Adams County is not known, but by 1886 a library was in operation in each township. At that time they contained about 2,000 volumes, but they were discounted by one historian as little used and generally worthless as educational helps.

The township libraries in Adams County probably came to an end in the same manner as others over the state with some books being boxed up and stored away and others being dispersed among the schools of the county.

Two copies of township library books are in the collection of the Decatur Public Library. An exemplar title is The Boyhood of Great Men, once part of the Preble Township Library. The rules and regulations of the bookplate, which shed light on the township library, are stated below:

  • The Library is in charge of the Trustees of the township.
  • The Trustees are accountable for the preservation of the books.
  • They may adopt rules and regulations necessary for preserving the books,and for rendering them useful.
  • They may prescribe the time of taking and of returning books.
  • They may assess damages done to them by persons entitled to their use.
  • The Library must be kept open to all persons entitled to its privilegesthroughout the year, without regard to school sessions.
  • Every family in the township is entitled to the use of one volume at a time.
  • No volume must be retained by the same family for a longer period than thirty days.
  • That the Trustees may be able frequently to examine the condition of the Library, and to make mutual exchanges of parts thereof in classified districts, every volume must be returned to the Library on or before the 20th day of September.
  • That the Trustees may be able to make their annual report of the condition of the Library to the township, and to hand the books over to their successors in office, all books must be returned to the Library at least ַַַַ days before the Annual Township Meeting.

The School Libraries

By the mid-1880’s the schools of Adams County had begun to figure prominently in the library picture. The Ceylon Grade School had a little library of around 60 volumes, and Ceylon, as well as the Monmouth and Pleasant Mills grade schools, supported a literary society during that period. By 1886 Decatur High School had a library of 100 volumes reportedly much in use by the pupils of the school. The money for the books had been gained from entertainments given by the pupils.

In Decatur the women of the two literary clubs, the Shakespeare and the Historical Reading, were privileged to borrow books for reference from the school library, but as the activities of the school increased, adult users became less welcome. The club members and the Board of Education began to discuss the possibility of securing a public library for Decatur.

Shortly after the turn of the century the school leaders of Decatur began to realize the need for a public school library that was tax-supported. As a result they secured a tax of three cents on the dollar for school purposes. Totaling around $450 at first, the revenue increased until it reached the sum of $600 per year for the public school library. The time came, nevertheless, when the library funds were obscured. The few books purchased – sometimes no more than a couple of dozen annually – served chiefly as replacements.

Located in the office of the school superintendent, the library was often closed for weeks at a time, except between the hours of four and five in the afternoon, for the librarian, paid from library funds, served as a supply teacher as well. Never was the library open on week ends, and usually it was closed throughout the summer. Finally it was opened one day a week during the summer through the efforts of one of the literary clubs.

In the school library’s downward course the time came when it was questionable whether any books at all would be purchased. Concerned, one of the club women visited the county treasurer’s office to inquire how much tax there was for library purposes. At first the treasurer insisted there was no such tax; then he said there was not a cent of library funds in the treasury. The woman persevered until she learned that the amount assessed was $600 a year. Going back to the club, she placed the matter before the women. Though they realized that the library was standing still when there was money appropriated for its support, they felt powerless to act, and the matter continued to drift.

The Decatur Public Library

The development of the public library in Decatur was correspondent with what was taking place in the neighboring communities around 1900. In Wells County the Bluffton Public Library, which had developed from the school library, was established in a Carnegie building in 1902. The Jay County Library, in nearby Portland, opened the doors of its Carnegie building in 1898. In the larger city of Fort Wayne a public library had been in operation since 1894.

Whether a Carnegie donation could be obtained had become the favorite topic of the women’s clubs of Decatur. George Woodward, president of the school board, was convinced a Carnegie library was possible. The Shakespeare Club in particular played a great part by boosting the library movement. As a result of their untiring effort, some of these club leaders were named as members of the first library board.

Movement for the Decatur Public Library

In January, 1904, years of discussion and planning for a public library in Decatur culminated in a meeting of those interested in procuring a library. Only a few attended for the night was stormy and cold. A temporary library board was appointed with George Woodward named as chairman. Before the next meeting could be arranged, however, Woodward became ill. In his subsequent death the library group felt a great loss, for his work and enthusiasm had sparked the cause.

At the next meeting of the board Rev. E.A. Allen, who replaced Woodward as chairman, was requested to write a letter to Andrew Carnegie asking for a donation of $10,000. When no reply came, the second letter was sent. Again weeks went by without an answer. At last the secretary and treasurer wrote to Carnegie, presenting the matter in a new light. In a short time the good news came in a letter dated March 8, 1904. The letter read:

Responding to your communications on behalf of Decatur. If the city agrees by resolutions of the council to maintain a free public library at cost of not less than one thousand dollars a year, and provides a suitable site for the building, Mr. Carnegie will be pleased to furnish ten thousand dollars to erect a free public library building for Decatur.

There was already an appropriation of $600 for library purposes in Decatur. The problem then was how to raise an additional $400. The library board, learning that the city council was paying $400 annually for rent of a room, made a proposition to the council: if the council would give the library the $400, the council might in return have a rent-free room in the library for as long as they needed the room. Thus Carnegie’s gift could be gained without further taxation. The city council adopted a resolution accepting the offer and on October 18, 1904, Carnegie authorized the payment of $10,000 to the board.

Establishment of the Library

The new building being assured by the Carnegie donation, a lot was purchased for the sum of $2,350, and an architect was hired to design the building. When bids to construct the library were received, the lowest was $9,850, nearly the whole amount of the Carnegie grant. Foreseeing the shortage of funds, the board again appealed to Carnegie, requesting an additional $2,000. He agreed to increase the original donation to $12,000 if the city council would guarantee to increase their expenditures correspondingly. The council complied.

In appearance the building that resulted was typical of the Carnegie libraries. The library was constructed of gray hydraulic-pressed stones, and four large Bedford columns added a classic note to the structure

The library was built at the cost of $15,490.33. Other than the Carnegie donation of $12,000, funds were raised as follows: city school board, $269.18; county treasury, $707.89; citizens of Decatur, $1,513.26; and loan, $1,000.

The Decatur Public Library opened in July, 1906. According to the librarian’s report, the first year was spent mainly completing the details of the library organization. The books were classified by Dewey Decimal Classification, and a penned catalog was completed.

Decatur was especially proud of its collection of periodicals during the early years. The librarian’s report of the activities of the second year boasted: “The Decatur Library tables contain 70 of the best periodicals, including magazines and newspapers….” Out-of-town visitors praised the collection, and the citizens of Decatur flocked to the library on Sunday afternoons to read the latest magazines. These periodicals were donated by citizens until 1912 when the library took over the renewals of subscriptions from its own funds and announced: “No more soliciting.”

Extension of Service to Washington Township

A newspaper clipping of 1913 relates that for a number of years prior to 1913 a sub-library was maintained in each school district in Washington Township, where Decatur is situated. Cases containing 25 to 40 books were sent to each school at the beginning of the school year, the books being renewable. The Decatur Public Library paid the expense of transportation of the cases to the districts with the understanding that each district be responsible for returning the cases to the library. When the schools grew careless in this matter, the service was discontinued.

Later more satisfactory township service was gained when a tax of one cent on the dollar for library use was levied in Washington Township. Full library privileges were given to the citizens of the township in 1913. Borrowers living outside the township and city were permitted to purchase a borrower’s card for only $1, the fee set in 1909. Forty-six years later, in 1957, the charge was the same.

Plans for a County Library

In a long typed report dated 1930, Annette Moses, the first librarian, wrote of plans for a county library. It was the goal of the trustees and, perhaps more particularly, of Miss Moses to see the Decatur Public Library become a county library as well. The plan had been considered many times, but definite action did not come until May, 1930. At that time a drive for the county library came under the leadership of the president of the county federation of clubs and a trustee of the public library board, backed by the public library trustees and the school officials of Decatur and Adams County. The women of the home economics clubs of the various townships assisted in circulating petitions. August 4, 1930, seven fully signed petitions, representing that many townships, were presented to the board of county commissioners. Although the commissioners favored the movement, they decided not to take up the county system at that time because of economic conditions in Adams County.

Growth of the Library

The overall growth of the Decatur Public Library has been fairly steadily upward with the exception of the reported number of borrowers. (All figures for the first year are based on a newspaper clipping, Decatur having on file no annual library reports prior to 1908.) The annual expenditure has grown from $1,325 in 1908, according to the library report, to $17,738 in 1956. Circulation, 13,922 the first year, climbed to 59,516 by 1956.

The number of borrowers reported presents an interesting and varied pattern. The first year there were 925. No total number was given for many of the following years, but by 1927 the number reported had reached a high of 10,000, which represented a greater number of patrons than there were people in the community served. The number of borrowers dropped sharply to approximately 3,000 the following year, 1929, and sank to 603 by 1933. Since 1940 the number has stayed near the 2,000 mark, shooting to a high of 3,054 in 1948.

Though the fluctuation of the number of borrowers no doubt reflects to some extent the life and times of the community as well as the service of the library, most of it is due to the failure of the library to reregister its borrowers systematically. Thus these figures do not give an accurate picture of the library service, but they show instead the cumulated number of borrowers registered in the first 25 years of the library. As another example, in 1948 the new librarian, Bertha C. Heller, learned that all borrowers’ cards were scheduled to expire in July of that year. The problem of reregistration was formidable at the time, but as a result the librarian has worked out a system of registration so that no such dilemma need arise again.

The Decatur Public Library is probably most outstanding because of its children’s work, initiated on a large scale by Miss Heller in 1948. Her summer reading programs have been unusually successful, the total circulation for the month of July, 1957, exceeding the annual circulation of 1947. The library’s egg tree, inspired by Katherine Milhous’s book, The Egg Tree, adds an exciting air to the children’s department each Easter season and has brought fame to the

Decatur Public Library, Librarians, Past and Present

  • Annette Moses, a former teacher, was appointed the first librarian of the Decatur Public Library in 1905, a job she held until 1933, when ill health forced her to resign. Under the supervision of Miss Moses the ground-work of the library was done.
  • Ruth Winnes, who replace Miss Moses, served until 1941.
  • Succeeding Miss Winnes was Mrs. Thelma Fogle, who was the librarian until 1944.
  • When she left, the library was temporarily without a librarian, but Mrs. R.D. Meyers, who had served as an assistant, and Glenys Roop took over in the emergency.
  • Esther Eichenberger served as librarian from 1945 to February, 1948.
  • When Miss Eichenberger resigned, Bertha C. Heller, the present librarian, was appointed to the position.

The Geneva Public Library Movement

Geneva, located in Wabash Township in the southern part of Adams County, has had an interesting history. About 1843 the original town site, Alexandria, was founded by Alexandria Hill. Approximately five years later an addition on the north end was platted, and the name Buffalo was given to the town. When the Cincinnati, Richmond, and Fort Wayne Railroad was built through the town in 1871, the railroad company established a station, which they named Geneva. Thereafter the name was adopted by the town.

A small town, Geneva is situated about six miles south of Berne. It has served chiefly as the center of an agricultural community. No doubt these factors are accountable for the late development of the Geneva Public Library.

The present librarian, Hazel Banta, was one of the leaders in the library movement. An avid reader, she had been interested in books and reading for many years. During the period that she served as a town official in Geneva, she kept a small library in the town hall. Donated by interested citizens, the books were loaned free of charge.

Recorded in the minutes of the meetings of the library board, the story of the Geneva Public Library began with the initial meeting of the Geneva Public Library Association November 14, 1944. Mrs. Banta was appointed as temporary chairman of the group. The association voted to request the Geneva Town Board for the use of the front section of the town hall for a public library. They decided also to ask that the partition of the town hall be moved to allow the library a larger room. The group made plans to canvass the town of Geneva for library funds “in keeping with state laws for establishing a library.”

When the town board refused their request for space, the next move of the association was to rent a room from the Masonic Lodge. The library group then petitioned the county judge for the right to establish a library in Geneva, a request that he granted. Letters in regard to the library movement were mailed to 200 Geneva alumni and former residents. Donations of money and books began to pour in, and in June, 1945, the library received its first share of tax money.

Mrs. Banta was appointed temporary librarian when the library opened in September, 1945. She received nominal wages for her services beginning in December of the same year.

In June, 1956, the library board moved to purchase the office building of Dr. J. V. Schetgen of Geneva. However, Dr. Schetgen later donated the building to the public library, an undated clipping states. The library board in January, 1957, purchased additional land north of the new building.

Growth of the Library

Since the Geneva Public Library is in the process of re-registering, the total number of borrowers for 1956 is not known. However, in 1955 the number of borrowers, 1,154, had more than tripled that reported in the first year. Circulation had doubled in this period, reaching a high of 12,164 in 1952, according to the Geneva library’s circulation record.

Adams County Histories

Adams County Histories

This collection provides access to obscure historical accounts and photographs of the early years of Adams County including county histories, documentation of the first known “Peace Monument,” and the history of the press in Adams County.

Events

Photos


McClure Working Man's Library


French Township Library Book


Prebble Township Library


Carnegie Library


Book Week


Bug Club


Downstairs Enclave in Carnegie Library



Girl Scouts in Carnegie Library


Downstairs Enclave in Carnegie Library


Decatur Library Floor Plan


Carnegie Library Postcard


Decatur Location


Geneva Location

Resources

Adams County Histories

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