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.

March 28, 1885

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


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.

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.

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.


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."



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.


September 1941

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


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.

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.

February 20, 1943

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


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

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.

May 1944

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


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.


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.


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.

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.

October 1958

In her will, Anna Polster gave the Library $2,000, money which was used to renovate the lower hall and the Children's Room.


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

February 1959

A 10-year remodeling project began on the Children's Room in the Library basement.


Book circulation continued to increase, with 7,643 more books checked out than during 1958.


September 26, 1962

The first burglary into the building was reported, with items taken amounting to $30. As the board considered theft insurance, another burglary took place five months later. Eventually, an entry alarm system was installed to discourage after-hours visits.


In the fall, microfilming projects were underway covering the Journal from 1871 to 1936 and the Courier from 1875 to 1930. The Indiana State Library and William Caddick of the Courier underwrote all but $200 of this project.


An air conditioning system was installed for the main floor and the Children's Room.


The remodeled Children's Room opened in the Library's basement. The opening also marked the beginning of Sunday library hours for the Children's Room; previously only the adult department had been open on Sundays.



Comic books were added to the Children's Room as a way to encourage non-readers' interest in reading. The first collection of comic books was donated by the Library's youngest patrons.


Willard Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Willard Library joined the Evansville Arts and Education Council.


As part of a three-year archives program of the Indiana State University Archives with a grant of $70,000 from the Lilly Endowment, Willard Library's manuscript holdings were listed, and copies of the list were shared with three participating libraries to make it easier for researchers to locate archival materials.

September 1972

Marcia Wheeler retired as Head Librarian. In preparation, her replacement, Bettye Elaine Miller, had been hired in May.

December 1972

Friends of Willard Library was formed, in order to "promote awareness and use of Willard Library by providing volunteer service, by increasing financial support, and by sponsoring cultural programs for the community."

Willard Punch Recipe

This locally famous punch is served by Friends of Willard Library at its events.

Willard Punch
1 part burgundy
1 part white champagne
1 part ginger ale

"Pink" Willard Punch
1 part rose wine
1 part white champagne
1 part ginger ale

February 1973

With an allocation of $5,000 from local revenue sharing funds, Willard Library microfilmed its large collection of Evansville German-language newspapers, and purchased a microfilm reader/printer. The Mead Johnson Company assisted greatly in completion of the project.

February 1973

Friends of Willard Library reported having 135 members, an elected board of directors, and $1,100 in dues collected.

July 1973

The board created a list of priorities for future renovation—including parking; widening the drive; installing heat and air conditioning, lighting, and solar screens for the second floor, and painting that floor; and enlarging the Children's Room; among others. That October, $30,000 in federal revenue sharing funds was allocated to start addressing these renovations.


A library consultant visited Willard Library to provide recommendations to help the board with long-range planning. As a result, the board determined to establish an archives and research center, building on the strength of the Library's special collections. It would be named the Regional and Family History Center, and would be housed on the second floor.

October 1974

The Library trustees decided that books on the topic of sex would no longer be kept in a closed book section, but would be placed on the open shelves.

March 1, 1975

A renovation on the second floor was completed and the area was opened to the public.

September 1975

Friends of Willard Library conducted its first annual used book sale at the old Farmers' Market across First Avenue from the Library, a tradition that continues to this day.

December 1975

Donald E. Baker was hired as Head Librarian. He replaced Bettye Miller, following her resignation.

December 7, 1976

The Regional and Family History Center, located on the newly remodeled second floor, was formally opened at a cocktail buffet for city officials, followed by an open house for the general public the following Sunday.


Friends of Willard Library reprinted old Evansville scenes in Evansville Illustrated of 1889 and Art Work of Evansville of 1901. The books were sold as a fundraising activity of the Friends.

March 1977

The Tri-State Genealogical Society was officially begun. By 1983, the society had more than 500 members. To this day, the Society continues as an effective partner with the Library in promoting the study of family history in the Evansville area.

October 1977

An agreement was drawn between the Library trustees and the newly organized Tri-State Genealogical Society, which included the Society's use of Library space.

August 1978

A new era of library science began at Willard Library, as the board authorized an application for a computerized cataloging system. Membership in the Online Computer Library Center brought Willard into a network of information exchange with thousands of libraries throughout the country.


Books from the Thrall Art Book Collection were moved to the circulation area of the Library to make them more accessible to patrons.

February 1979

A building survey begun in 1978 was completed by McDonald and Mack Partnership. It served as a guide for the next five years of continuous capital work on the Library building.


Through grants and the Library's first public fundraising efforts, resources were marshaled to expand and remodel the Children's Room in the Library's basement.


September 10, 1980

A ramp to facilitate Library access was dedicated on September 10, 1980. The ramp was one of several projects for the improvement of the building's safety and access features, and was made possible by grants of federal Community Development Block Grant Funds in the 1970s and 1980s.

September 10, 1980

The newly remodeled and expanded Margaret Maier Children's Room and Helen Kamm Activities Room were publicly dedicated, in a ceremony sponsored by Friends of Willard Library.

February 1981

The Library received a gift of $10,000 from William A. Gumberts, to be used as an endowment for the restoration and preservation of the Library's collection of portraits.

June 8, 1982

A devastating storm separated part of the Library's roof from the building, toppled one of the chimneys, and destroyed cornices, gutters, and more than half of the roof slates. The repairs cost $140,000 and took almost a full year to complete.

July 29, 1982

Fantasy Animals in the Park, a series of five whimsical stained-glass designs by Charlotte Paul, a stained glass artist from Bloomington, Indiana, were installed in the Children's Room. They were dedicated in memory of former Head Librarian Gray Davis Williams.

December 1982

A newly installed elevator, paid for with an $11,000 donation from an anonymous business owner and $75,000 from a community fundraiser, was dedicated to the memory of Judge Azro Dyer. Judge Dyer had been one of the speakers at the dedication of the Library in 1885.

May 31, 1983

A public reception was given for Eleanor Lansing Dulles, at which she announced her intention to give Willard her personal collection of books and other writings by and about members of the Foster and Dulles families, as well as the writings of her husband, philologist David Blondheim.

Fall 1983

Willard Library joined an automated circulation cluster with the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Public Library, the Indiana State University Evansville Library, and the Knox County Public Library in Vincennes. Significant work was done that resulted in a tax increase needed to fund the improvement, and installation of the computer system was scheduled for 1985.


The Library's ancient restrooms were remodeled, completing six years of improvements, which included a new heating system, new windows, an elevator, a handicap-accessible ramp and entrance, a new roof and sheet metal repair, a new Children's Room, and numerous smaller projects.


A gift from the estate of Mary Elise Euler provided more than $150,000, which was placed in trust. Half the income would be used for maintenance and the other half for book purchase and programming.

March 28, 1985

The community observed the one-hundredth birthday of Willard Library.

March 23, 1986

The Library hosted a reception to mark the publication of Where There's a Willard, a history of Willard Library.

June 18, 1986

The Library announced construction of a climate-controlled room in the basement for storing rare documents, such as letters and photos.

July 23, 1986

Anna Louise Thrall died at age 78. She had worked at the Library from 1945 to 1973, having become the special collections librarian when the John E. Igleheart manuscripts were donated to the library in 1953.

August 27, 1986

Three Sanborn Map books, dating from 1910 to 1968, were donated to the Library by Citizens Realty and Insurance Co.

October 11, 1986

Willard Library was the first stop in Victorian Evansville's Regressive Dinner. Its hor d'oeuvre menu included hot crab dip, chicken in puffs, assorted cheeses, cucumber surprise, braun-schweiger molds, salmon mousse, spinach on croustade, crudités, ancoiade nicoise, chipped beef canapés, and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon.

November 6, 1986

The church of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) microfilmed its local records, an effort coordinated by Special Collections Librarian Joan Elliott.

December 25, 1986

The Library received the files of Courier journalists Karl Kae Knecht and Jeanne Suhrheinrich.

February 1, 1987

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1937 Ohio River Flood, the Library showed home movies of the disaster.

April 9, 1987

The Library installed computers for use by staff and patrons, but still maintained personal service.

June 6, 1987

Willard Library received a grant to process the Knecht and Suhrheinrich collections, which came to the Library in 1986.

August 27, 1989

Willard Library Director Don Baker left to head the Newburgh-Ohio Township public libraries in Warrick County.

November 4, 1989

Margaret Maier died. Known as "Miss Margaret" during her 50-year tenure as children's librarian, Maier was well-known for her annual Easter Egg Tree. She had helped several child patrons who later achieved national fame, including Bob Griese, Ron Glass, Tom Armstrong, and Andy Benes.


January 23, 1990

William Goodrich was named Director of Willard Library.


As the Library was inundated with old county records, interest grew in acquiring the Municipal Market building across First Avenue. However, the building was not acquired.

June 10, 1994

Library Director William Goodrich resigned to head a two-county library system in Virginia.

June 20, 1994

The Library received a grant from the Indiana Heritage Research Grant program to clean and store 10,000 glass-plate negatives from the Walden Photography Studio, which was in business from 1892 to 1941.

July 1, 1994

Adult Services Librarian Greg Hager was promoted to Director of Willard Library.

September 1, 1994

Installation of the Library's local area networked computer system was completed.

March 28, 1995

Television personality Willard Scott acknowledged Willard Library's one hundred-tenth anniversary on the NBC network's Today Show.

August 24, 1996

Electric chandeliers, replicas of the building's original gas chandeliers, were installed.

February 11, 1997

The Willard Library website was created.

April 14, 1998

The Library's interior was re-painted.

January 2, 1999

For the first time in its history, Willard Library began opening for business on Mondays, and was open 59.5 hours a week, year-round.

October 15, 1999

The world's first ghostcam was installed at Willard Library. In the first two weeks, more than two million visitors logged on to the Library's website to see what was in the camera's view.


July 10, 2002

With a $5,000 grant, the Library put online 10,000 biographical index cards from the Joan Marchand Collection.

February 9, 2003

Toyota Motor Corporation Indiana presented a $5,000 grant to Willard Library for digitizing and uploading 2,000 index cards of local company information, to make the cards available to online researchers.

April 19, 2006

Willard Library's internationally famous ghost, The Grey Lady, is featured on Syfy Channel's "Ghost Hunters". While they discover nothing while actually filming, the show's stars, Jason and Grant report seeing an unexplained "mist" in the Bayard Room while taking a break from filming.

February 19, 2007

Local business owner and pilot Robert M. Leich donated airport photos from the 1920s and 1930s to the Library.

July 22, 2007

Willard Library opened the Adele and Paul Torian Native American Leaders of the Mid-19th Century permanent exhibit. The three volumes of the folio-sized History of the Indian Tribes of North America by Thomas L. McKenney, published in 1838, 1842, and 1844, were a gift from Adele and Paul Torian.

May 22, 2008

The Captain Henry Vanderburgh Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution dedicates an historical marker in honor of library founder, Willard Carpenter. The marker, featuring an open bronze book on an unfinished gray granite pedstal, is located in the front flower bed to the right of Willard Library's front entrance.


March 28, 2010

Willard Library celebrates its 125th Anniversary by hosting an Open House. 600 Willard Library children and adult patrons attend throughout the day to celebrate Willard's past, present and future.

November 19, 2010

Dedication of the north side of Willard Park. Enhanced through a generous $100,000 donation from neighbor Berry Plastics, the park re-design features perennial flower beds, new trees, berms, donated benches, and paved pathways designed by landscape architect, Rundell Ernstberger.

November 26, 2010

The Bayard Room portrait of Henry Blount, painted by James H. Moser is restored by the Chicago Conservation Center through a generous donation from Henry Blount's ancestors.

February 28, 2011

Library Director, Greg Hager presents a proposal to the Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau for a 2.4 million dollar, 8,000 square foot below ground expansion of Willard Library for the purpose of housing the library archives and containing a gallery capable of seating 150 people. Willard Library, having already raised 1.5 million dollars, announces that this would be the first ever physical expansion of Willard Library.

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