|"There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration."
In January 1902, Mord Carter, president of the Danville Commercial Club, wrote a letter to Andrew Carnegie asking for money to build a library in Danville. Andrew Carnegie was born to a poor family in Scotland but went on to become a steel tycoon in Pittsburgh, and one of his philanthropic interests was libraries. He gave money to over 1,500 libraries nationwide. Indiana was the recipient of 165 "Carnegie Libraries," more than any other state.
Carnegie agreed to give $10,000 for a library, with the condition that Danville establish a separate tax to help pay for the library every year. The first library board met in April 1902 and consisted of Mord Carter, Josephine K. Thomas, Dr. Joel T. Barker, Henry Hadley, Mattie A. Keeney, Otis T. Spencer and Jennie Hill King.
A construction bid of $9,400 was agreed upon to build the library envisioned in Indianapolis architect S.C. Dark's plans. A lot on the corner of East Marion and South Indiana streets was purchased for $525. A cornerstone-laying ceremony was held on October 14, 1902, with over 2,000 townspeople attending. A time capsule (made out of a copper box) was put into the cornerstone. It contained several items, including an ear of corn, a bottle of wheat, newspapers, photos of town officials from the 1880's, and a small flag used by the Grand Army of The Republic (GAR).
The library was dedicated on December 5, 1903. Due to the size of the program, it had to be held in the chapel of nearby Central Normal College. The initial collection was about 1,000 books. The librarian was Miss Lou Robinson, whose salary was $5 a week. She worked by herself, so when she went on vacation in August 1904, the library closed for two weeks.
The library has undergone several changes since 1903, but still remains in the original building. In 1979 a $350,000 expansion began, and dedication ceremonies were held on October 12, 1980. On October 9, 1999, dedication ceremonies were held for a second expansion. This $2.5 million renovation and expansion nearly doubled the space of the library.
In 2003, the library held a series of events in honor of its 100th birthday, culminating on December 7, 2003 with the unveiling of the contents of the time capsule from 1902, which had been successfully removed from the cornerstone. Items were collected for a new time capsule, which was then placed (along with the 1902 time capsule) in a marble bench inside the library on April 24, 2005. The time capsule will be opened for the library's bicentennial in 2103.
Danville Public Library salutes its head librarians:
Loren Malloy, 2003-present
Diana Lehr, 1997-2003
Melba Geoffroy, 1981-1996
Mary Ellen Schmidt, 1979-1981
Yvonne Lee Hanson, 1971-1979
Ina Shaw, 1953-1971
Bernice Ferree, 1931-1951
Lou Robinson, 1903-1931