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June 27, 2016

History of Hamilton East Public Library: A Township Library

History of Hamilton East Public Library: A Township Library

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

Swain libraryContinuing the discussion of the history of the Noblesville library from The Founding to Dr. Haymond W. Clark., I thought I might look at a document that is still in the possession of the library and gives us some insight into the reading habits of the Victorian residents of Noblesville – the circulation register that runs from October of 1883 to January of 1886.

A township library, separate from the Clark library (discussed previously), was organized in 1883. It was housed in a rather unique environment. Charles Swain, the Noblesville Township trustee at this time, was given the task of administering the library. He had been a member of the original Working Men’s library association. His actual occupation was selling and repairing horse harnesses in his shop, which was on the west side of the courthouse square. The simplest way for him to run both the library and his shop was to have them in the same building. He received rent payments for this of $1.00 a month and the library was open every Saturday evening. Forty years later, a former patron named Clarence Case remembered what the collection looked like:

[blockquote text=”“This library was an immense single walnut bookcase with glass doors which towered among horse collars, whips, and lap-robes nearly to the ceiling of the low room. It was certainly not a large collection as far as libraries go now, but as for myself, I felt as that other boy remarked, ‘It was good what there was of it and there was enough of it such as it was’.”” text_color=”#8dc63f” width=”” line_height=”undefined” background_color=”” border_color=”” show_quote_icon=”no” quote_icon_color=””]

The circulation register has only 337 entries for the time period that it covers and most of the patrons’ names would mean little to people today. However, it’s interesting to note, in an era before female education was encouraged, that many women used the library. They included a Mrs. Sanford, who borrowed The Life of Mohammed, and May Bradley, who checked out a geological survey. Miss Minnie Drake checked out The Life and Times of George IV and was a regular patron of the library. In addition, the name “Dempsey” appears nineteen times in the register and says much about how the library was run. The Dempseys were an African American family that had moved to Hamilton County sometime around the Civil War.

Despite the small size of the collection, the subjects of the books were diverse. Some of the more popular titles were histories like The Second War With England (1853) by Joel Tyler Headley (about the War of 1812), and George Bancroft’s History of the United States (1834). Other titles included Journeys Through China, Practical Astronomy, Rudiments of Architecture, Women of the American Revolution (checked out by Mrs. Sanford), and many biographies. The books seem to be mostly nonfiction, but it’s difficult to tell from some of the abbreviated titles.

Lacy buildingTwenty-one days seems to be the standard checkout time and most people seem to have returned them on time. However, there are several entries simply marked “returned’ as well as a few blank spots in the return column. The books and patrons with blank spots show up later in the register, so it may have just been an error. The register itself is well-worn, with stains that may be harness oil. A transcription of the entries can be found in the book No Better Place for Our Minds to Grow Strong: 150 years of library service in Noblesville. It’s available in the Indiana Room.

In 1889, the township library closed and the collection was taken over by a group of local businessmen. They opened a reading room on the north side of the courthouse square in the Lacy building and Miss Jennie Lacy was made the librarian. Finally, in 1896, the remainder of the Clark library and the businessmen’s library combined to form the basis of the present library, which was to serve the residents of the city of Noblesville.