History of the Rushville Public Library Building
(The following was written by library director Sue Otte for a special section of the Rushville Republican in the spring of 2011.)
The Rushville Public Library celebrated its 100th year of existence in 2010. While proud of that milestone, this celebration overshadowed another library anniversary – the 80th birthday of our library building.
The Rushville Public Library, formed by the local Daughters of the American Revolution in 1910, was housed in the lower level of courthouse for more than ten years until the library’s board of trustees began discussing the construction of an actual library facility. Most of the board minutes from the early years of the library are skimpy regarding actions and discussions. I like to think that the board, on recommendation of Mary Sleeth, Rushville’s first librarian, often talked about a library building from the time our library was born. After all, the library was housed in two rooms of the courthouse. I am sure it was cramped as gifts and purchases of books were added to the collection and as library patrons maneuvered around the stacks. At the present Rushville Public Library facility, we understand cramped!
The library board minutes do not reflect any discussions regarding a library building until 1922. It was in June that Edward Austen, a farmer from Richland Township, left a bequest of $500 for a library building. It doesn’t sound like much, but $500 in the 1920s could be like receiving $5000 or maybe more by today’s standards. The library board tucked the money away in bonds.
Less than four years later, Albert Reeve, a retired farmer from Posey Township, left $250 from his estate for a Rushville library building. But in September of 1926, a bequest in the amount of $25,000 (later reduced to $22,500) was left for a library building by Sarah Harpole Mull Banning. Born in Ohio and raised in Bloomington, Illinois, Sarah married Rush County resident Frank Mull in 1890 and lived the next 25+ years in Walker Township. Frank Mull was a successful businessman and farmer who passed away in 1913. When Sarah Mull Banning died, her estate was valued at more than $300,000. Since the Mulls had no children, Sarah left her money to various entities including churches, Riley Hospital for Children, and, of course, our library.
Sarah Banning’s gift accelerated the library board’s resolve to have a library constructed for the community! By the next spring, the board was looking into properties around Rushville including the Anna Churchill residence on Main Street and the Owen Carr property at 5th & Perkins Streets.
In March, 1928, the property on the corner of 3rd & Morgan Streets was available. This property, owned by the I&C Traction Company and Alvin Miller, was available for $12,000. The library board made an offer of $10,000 which was accepted in April and finalized in October.
The library board’s next step was to select an architect for the project. Several architectural firms from the area schmoozed the library board, but in the end, McGuire & Shook (now Odle McGuire Shook) came out on top. Architect Wilbur Shook and engineer William McGuire had founded the Indianapolis-based company in 1916. McGuire and Shook designed and built many public buildings throughout Indiana including Irvington High School in Indianapolis and the Soldiers and Sailors Children’s Home in northern Rush County.
The Great Depression that struck the country in October, 1929, did not slow down the library board’s plans. Bonds were sold for the project in December and January, and the Victorian home which was a private residence as well as the traction line office was sold to Sam Finney for a whopping $250. It is presumed that Mr. Finney dismantled or tore down the home for materials.
Despite the Depression, the library board pressed forward in the summer of 1930 by securing a contractor for the library building. The board received fifteen bids and selected Jake Mann of Mooresville whose bid was $29,900. Hoosier Plumbing and Heating from Shelbyville won the heating/ventilation bid and Indianapolis’s C.L. Smith Electric Company was selected to put in the electricity. Representatives from the Bloomington Limestone Company showed samples to the library board, showcasing beautiful “split-faced” limestone, which was selected to adorn the building.
Library board minutes reveal very little about specific library plans, furnishings, and decorations. A building committee, chaired by library board member Roy Waggener who was also stock owner in Park Furniture Company, met regularly to make decisions regarding the new facility. Although the Park Furniture Company primarily used cherry wood in the construction of bedroom and dining room suites, Mr. Waggener designed tables, chairs, shelving, and the massive circulation desk which were specially built from oak by Park Furniture employees. The final bill for these now invaluable pieces of furniture totaled $1,434.85 in 1930.
McGuire and Shook designed a neo-Gothic facility. Gothic architecture became popular in the 12th century, first in France and then England and other European countries. This architecture is best associated with various European cathedrals and castles, many of which still stand. Limestone, like that used on the Rushville Public Library, was the most common building material for Gothic structures. Our library’s reference area features a “hammer-beam” ceiling which was also popular in Gothic architecture. Use of curved beams was necessary in the 12th to 16th centuries due to the lack of long, straight timber, which was already being used for roofs and ships. The Renaissance of the 16th century brought a new type of architecture to Europe, but two centuries later, love of Gothic buildings was revived in England and the popularity eventually reached American shores. Gothic architecture lost its popularity in the 1930s, shortly after our building was constructed. In a way, the Rushville Public Library building is the last of its kind.
More than 80 years later, questions remain about the library building. Any notes or minutes taken by the library board’s building committee have been lost. Looking at the Third Street façade of the building, folks usually notice two specific ornaments: the wise owl and the sundial. I often wonder who decided on these ornaments. The owl represents wisdom, and there is great wisdom in books and knowledge. That makes sense. Too bad we will never know who made the decision to include him. The sundial seems to be a basic ornament of Gothic architecture. Sundials adorned structures for centuries before clocks were put in towers. Perhaps our sundial represents the passage of time folks spend in our library enlightening themselves and becoming as wise as the owl who watches over our building.
Construction on the new library facility began in the summer of 1930. Oddly enough, the Rushville post office building was constructed at the same time. Even though our nation was in the Great Depression, there was construction and progress in Rush County.
In January, 1931, the new Rushville Public Library opened its doors to the community. Various local civic clubs and individuals donated furniture, books, and supplies. The women of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) and the local Daughters of the American Revolution donated an American and an Indiana flag for display. The library board paid Mr. Herman Hartzler $161.34 to landscape around the new facility.
When it was all said and done, the final bill for the new Rushville Public Library was $32,781.80 (plus $10,000 for the property).
During the next 80 years, the library building was repaired, improved, and enhanced. Most of the repairs involved the large flat roof which covers more than 50% of the building. According to library board minutes, the first time that the flat roof had to be repaired was in June, 1932, just a year and a half after the grand opening. Between 1932 and 1950, the flat roof was repaired or replaced eight times. Even today, the flat roof design is trouble for our Rushville Public Library. Perhaps this building was never meant to have a roof of this type.
When the Rushville Public Library building was not quite twenty years old, board minutes reveal that there was a need to expand the facility to hold the ever-growing collection. The board asked McGuire and Shook for ideas regarding a new wing. Probably due to lack of funds, the library board decided to simply add a second tier in the stacks. This tier now houses the library’s non-fiction and biographies. In 1953, the library board secured bonding for this small addition, and Art Metal Construction Company was paid $5,825 to complete this task.
The next significant library renovation occurred in 1988-89 when it received a “face-lift” in the form of new carpeting, wallpaper, paint, lighting, and air-conditioning. Storage areas were added to the lower level, restrooms were revamped, and an improved meeting room was created. Two rooms were converted into technical services and genealogy/local history. New ramps to the front and back door ensured that the library met A.D.A. standards (of that time). The library board sold bonds for this project and the cost was ten times the cost of the original building 60 years prior.
In the past twenty years, the Rushville Public Library building has undergone numerous improvements and enhancements including new carpeting, a few thermal windows, re-bricking and tuck-pointing, many roof repairs, and roof replacements. Two chief issues which have not been successfully addressed in 80 years is accessibility for all patrons and employees to all levels of the library and lack of space for growth of collections, technology, and services. In 1930, it would have been impossible for the library board, the architect, and the builders to know that someday people would have a difficult time getting around the library due to all of the steps. They would not have known that someday there would be alternative forms of information and entertainment such as computers, DVDs, and CDs available in public libraries. The scope and purpose of public libraries has changed in ways no one could have foreseen in 1930. Libraries across the nation continue to serve their communities the best they can from within aging facilities. The Rushville Public Library is one of these libraries.
In 2004, the library board began earnest discussions regarding the facility. The library renovation of 1988-89 added no additional space for programming, growing collections, and technology. It didn’t address the very important lack of accessibility among the library’s levels. By the end of 2008, the decisions had been made by the board to keep the library on the corner of 3rd & Morgan Streets but expand the building size and tackle the issues of accessibility and space. However, the recent property tax cap enacted by the State of Indiana and voted into the State Constitution by Hoosiers dashed the hopes of the Rushville Public Library board and staff. The tax cap, also known as the circuit breaker, reduces the library’s revenue for day-to-day operations as well as diminishes the ability to raise funds through a bond issue for a building project. Any growth of or improvements to our facility are not likely to come from tax dollars.
Today, there is still hope for the Rushville Public Library building’s future. Each month, the library board discusses the facility, keeping our significant services and important resources in the forefront. It strives to seek alternative funding, such as grants or corporate/private donors, for library improvements and enhancements.
Even so, maybe the construction, improvements, and enhancements of the Rushville Public Library building are ultimately minor compared to the treasures folks find inside. As I wrote this, one young library patron put everything into perspective by telling me, “It’s an old building, but it has lots of cool, new stuff inside.” She referred to the books, movies, computers, and other technology. “And it’s all free!” she added with a cheery smile.