Henderson Public Library and Its Founders
Most citizens leave public school at 18 or younger, but
one institution of learning is available throughout their lives -- the
public library. Henderson residents are indebted to Edward Asher JONAS,
an early publisher of the Henderson Journal, for meeting Andrew CARNEGIE
on the golf links and convincing him that Henderson would welcome a library.
JONAS found CARNEGIE easier to convince than the Henderson
officials. CARNEGIE'S gift was conditioned on the city providing
a suitable lot for the building and enacting a special tax to pay the
maintenance and operating cost of the library. JONAS started the
fund for the lot by giving lectures and enlisting other forms of entertainment.
By 1902 enough money had been secured to persuade Mayor J. H. POWELL
and the city council to approve a board of directors, and purchase a lot
on the corner of Main and Washington Streets.
In 1903 the board chose Miss Susan TOWLES to become librarian and,
with her customary thoroughness, she went to the Library of Congress to
learn techniques of classification and cataloging, before taking up her
duties in 1904. For this reason, the library books were classified by
the Cutter method, instead of the more usual Dewey system.
Miss TOWLES' contribution to the culture of Henderson was so varied,
so intense and so-long-lasting, that a short biography is in order. A
descendant from the original Transylvanians, she was born during the Civil
War and lived past the middle of the 20th Century. She could remember
the Union troops marching out of Henderson and leaving her father, a wealthy
man in pre-war days, with only two cemetery lots, a collection of books
and family chronicles going back to his Scottish origins. A quiet, dignified
lady she seems, at times, to be immersed in historical traditions, but
her eyes were firmly fixed on the future.
In her father's collection were two sets of Audubon's books, his "Birds"
and "Quadrupeds", and she knew the naturalist had been a friend
of her grandfather, Judge Thomas TOWLES. She set
herself the task of keeping Audubon's memory alive. She joined the Henderson
Audubon society when it was organized in 1898 and became president of
the state society; borrowed $1,000 and ordered prints from the Elephant
folio which she sold to pay for the fine collection still housed at the
library; and when she was in her seventies, she went back to Washington
to appear before a joint committee of the U.S. House and Senate, asking
for an appropriating for an Audubon material.
She organized the two historical societies, The Transylvanians and Henderson
Historical Society, and provided a meeting place for them in the library.
She was president of the Transylvanians when they placed the six historical
plaques on the walls of the Courthouse and published the writings of Archibald
HENDERSON concerning the Transylvania Company. When the state asked
her to write a history of the town of Henderson and to report historic
buildings in west Kentucky, she compiled; but the book was published by
W. P. A. and her name was omitted from the title page.
She became president of the Civic Improvement Society in 1903 and led
its members in demanding that the city fathers make all the river front
from Washington to 12th Streets into parks and playgrounds. Two parks
survive today. Many of the books and manuscripts that she collected on
the Transylvania Company and placed in the museum, have also disappeared
over the years, but anyone who visits the Audubon Museum, relaxes in either
of the river front parks, or uses the public library, feels the influence
of Miss Sue TOWLES.
When the library opened 01 Aug 1904, 500 books were on the shelves in
the main library and 100 in the branch for colored users. At that time,
only city dwellers had free use of the books, but in 1942 Fiscal Court
started making an annual appropriation to the library and it was opened
for county residents.
Miss TOWLES retired in 1949 and the board elected her assistant,
Miss Sara WINSTEAD, as head librarian and she remained until her
retirement in 1973. In 1954 service was extended beyond the building when
the first bookmobile was placed in the county. The two collections had
been integrated, and growth was so rapid that a major renovation was necessary
in 1960. The lower floor was opened with a new inside stairway to reach
a brand-new children's department and adult stocks, and records and audio-visual
equipment were added. This was just in time to serve the students in the
new college before its library was adequate. In keeping with accepted
library practice, Miss WINSTEAD reclassified the entire book collection
into the Dewey system.