Founder Willard Carpenter wanted to leave a lasting legacy in Evansville, a town he had helped to build through politics and business. His dream was to build a Willard College. Although the project was actually begun—plans were drawn up, trustees were appointed, and resources were allocated by Carpenter—the resources available were not great enough to fund a sustainable institution of higher learning.
A considerable fortune that Carpenter had amassed in his earlier years in Evansville had been lost through some unfortunate railroad and other dealings. Although Carpenter had worked to rebuild his wealth, he did not have enough years remaining to replace the money he had spent his most productive years pursuing through real estate and other business deals. And the real estate he held had been considerably devalued by the economic conditions of the day.
And so, faced with that reality, and with many who agreed that the college would struggle at best, Carpenter was encouraged by his peers to direct his intentions to the founding of another institution, perhaps a library.
Carpenter seemed to like the idea, seeing a connection between the two—both were dedicated to learning and would benefit the community. And so, his long-held dream of creating a Willard College was re-directed into the creation of Willard Library.