For one hundred years, folks traveling south on Main Street in Henderson have been admiring the white limestone and towering columns of the Henderson County Public Library. This institution first opened its doors to the public on August 1, 1904, after years of hard work by the publisher of the Henderson Journal, Edward Jonas. Mr. Jonas first began his campaign to bring a library to Henderson over a game of golf with the well-known philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Mr. Carnegie agreed to give the community the funding needed to build the library, if the community would purchase a suitable lot and would enact a tax that would cover the expenses related to running a library. It took Mr. Jonas until 1902 to get the backing of the local government, but soon things began to fall into place.
Susan Towles was hired in 1903 as head librarian, and on that opening day in 1904 she began her 45-year tenure as the city’s guardian of information and knowledge. When she first started her career, the main library had only 500 books, with another 100 at a separate branch for the African-American citizens. Over the years, the library and the public that it served grew tremendously, so that in 1960, Miss Towles successor, Ms. Sarah Winstead, was faced with the first major renovation of the library. During this first of three renovations that the Henderson County Public Library would undergo, the downstairs was transformed to accommodate an expanded adult non-fiction section and a children’s area. The planning stage for the next renovation would begin in 1974 while Ms. Sherrie Clem was head of the library, however actual construction would not begin until 1979, shortly after the appointment of the director Donald Wathen. This project was completed in 1980. During this construction, a 10,283 square foot addition was added the library to hold the adult and reference departments. The upstairs area of the original building was transformed into offices and an archive and local history room. The most recent changes were completed in 2000, with the addition of a new children’s department.
In 2002, with the library larger and offering more services and technologies than could have even been imagined in 1904, the focus began to shift from growing and changing to restoring and preserving. During January 2002 a team of art restoration experts were commissioned to begin restoration of the murals that adorn the inside of the rotunda in the original building. As the team began to remove years of dirt and paint, several surprising discoveries were made, including the painted laurel leaf borders that frame each of the murals and the names of classic authors that appear between each painting. In June of 2003, the next stage of the restoration commenced with the copper roofing on the rotunda being replaced and the stained glass skylight in the center of the rotunda being removed, cleaned, and re-leaded. Also in 2003, the brass chandelier that hangs from the stained glass was restored to its original brilliance. January 2004 brought the replacement of the worn metal front doors, for replicas of the old wooden doors that once greeted the library’s patrons. During this time, the woodwork in the foyer area was also refinished to have it match the new “old” doors and the brass light fixtures were polished and refinished to match the shiny brass chandelier. The final restoration for the old building’s centennial was the painstaking uncovering and restoration of the tile mosaic that covered the floor in the foyer as well as the porch outside leading up to the front doors. This project was completed in May 2004.
On August 1, 2004, the Henderson County Public Library celebrated 100 years of service to the community with an official centennial celebration. Please come by any time and see how things have changed, and enjoy how, with a little work, some things have stayed the same after all these years.
Why are we the Henderson Pvblic Library?
Over the years several different reasons have been suggested as the reason the engraving above the front doors uses a "V" rather than a "U". There is not a precise answer to this query, however we are able to make an educated guess based on several sources of information.
According to the World Book encyclopedia, U was adopted from the Greek letter Y. The Romans dropped the bottom stroke and wrote the letter as V. This was used for both the consonant sound V and the vowel sound U. Some time around 900 A.D. people began to use V at the beginning of a word and U in the middle of a word. It was during the time between 1400 A.D. and 1600 A.D. that U became the letter commonly used for the vowel sound.
There was a Renaissance of the Classical style of architecture in the United States from 1890-1940. William R. Ware, the founder of M.I.T.'s School of Architecture, taught a style that he called American Vignola. (Vignola was an Italian architect who codified the standards for Classical Architecture in his work Rules of the Five Orders of Architecture). We own a reprint of Ware's primer American Vignola (729.3 Ware).
In the early 1900's, it was common for educated men to be taught both Greek and Latin. Therefore the people involved with the design of this building and many others during this American Renaissance more than likely would have known the Classic Roman alphabet used the symbol V for both U and V.
We are not the only library to be a "pvblic" library. Pictures have been found of several other libraries where a V is substituted for a U. While their architectural style does not always match our Classical columns, domes and pediments, most of them were built during this time of American Vignola. So it is accurate to say that we were built during a time when architects and builders were embracing Classic themes. Therefore it is very likely that the engraving reads "Henderson Pvblic Library" because it was in accordance to what was popular in the architectural world at the time our library was built. This is also a likely explanation for the architect's decision to design our library in the Classical style.
The library has over 112,000 items available for checkout or in-house use. Included in the library's large book collection are the following specialized collections:
- Large-print books (fiction, non-fiction and biography)
- Genre fiction collections:
- Science Fiction
- Science Fiction
- Genealogy and Local History (in-library use only)
- Reference books (in-library use only)
- Children's books and reference materials
- Teen books
Magazines and Newspapers
The library subscribes to dozens of regional and national magazines and journals on a wide variety of topics and interests. Click here to see the complete list and our current holdings.
Our newspaper subscriptions include:
- The Henderson Gleaner
- Evansville Courier and Press
- Owensboro Messenger-Enquirer
- Louisville Courier-Journal
- USA Today
- Wall Street Journal
Movies, music and audio books
The library has a large collection of audio-visual materials.
- DVDs & VHS (Children's Department)
- Compact Disc (fiction, non-fiction and biography for adults, teens, and children)
- Music on Compact Disc (all music is arranged by genre for easy browsing)
- Downloadable audiobooks, ebooks, music, and videos
Other specialized collections
- The Gleaner newspaper on microfilm
- Kentucky death certificates on microfilm (currently 1911-1961)
- Photo file collection (photographs pertaining to local history)
The Foundation is a non-profit entity established by the Library Board for the purpose of generating funds to develop and enhance library programs and facilities. It was established in 1992 and has raised $1.2 million for its projects.
This first project, completed in 1995, allowed the Library to purchase computer equipment to automate access to all Library information. It involved the one-time electronic cataloging of the the entire library collection. The advantages of automating the Library's operation included:
- Central access to all books and audio-visual materials
- Computer terminals for staff use
- Computer terminals for public use
- More information available on every item in the library
- More time for staff to perform non-repetitve tasks
- Capacity for patrons to connect to the Library's catalog system from their home, school, or office
Growing to meet our children's needs
The Foundation's second project, completed in March 2000, increased the size of the Children's Library from 1,100 to approximately 3,400 square feet. It provides better facilities for a greater variety of programs. The Library offers special preschool programs designed to nurture a lifetime love of reading and to instill an understanding that reading is the key to education and self-improvement throughout life. The new Children's Library offers the following improvements:
- More than triple the current library space for children
- More age and size appropriate shelving and furniture for our youth
- Much needed parenting materials center
- A new computer lab with 10 computers, children's software, and access to the Internet
- Purchase and installation of Great Horned Owls sculpture in front of the library
- Renovation of the library's multi-purpose room
Contributing to the Foundation
All donations to the Foundation are welcome at any time. Memorials and gifts may be restricted by donors for specific purposes or their use may be left to the discretion of the Board of Directors. All gifts and bequests to the Foundation qualify as tax-deductible contributions and may be sent to the Library Director at the address below. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt charitable organization.
In 2003, after 99 years of service, the Library Board of Trustees decided it was necessary for the original roof of the rotunda dome to be replaced. During this process, the Board evaluated the rotunda for other areas that needed improvement. In an effort to preserve the historic building, the stained glass and skylight were removed from the top of the rotunda to be refurbished and restored. In addition, the large brass chandelier was also removed to be cleaned and refurbished. See the pictures here.