Henderson County, Kentucky


If Henderson newspaper publisher Edward Asher JONAS hadn't played golf, the community's "best people" wouldn't have been able to attend the grand opening of the Henderson County Public Library on August 1, 1904.

That's because there wouldn't have been a new library. It all started on the golf links at the turn of the century when JONAS met millionaire Andrew CARNEGIE and convinced him to build a library for Henderson's residents.

CARNEGIE was persuaded, but his gift had two conditions: The city had to provide a suitable lot for the facility and also had to enact a special tax to finance the library's ongoing maintenance and operating expenses.

Largely thanks to JONAS raising the "seed money" for the land, the city fathers in 1902 bought a site at the corner of Washington and Main streets and approved a board of library directors. Mayor J. H. POWELL and the council members also enacted the tax that CARNEGIE had wisely required.

The massive building with its broad front steps was completed in the most sweltering part of the summer of 1904 and it's for certain the ladies brought their feathered and lace-trimmed fans with them to the big opening on a Monday evening.

The next day's edition of the newspaper noted that "barring the heat, the dedicatory exercises … were very interesting … A large crowd of Henderson's best people, also some members of the city council, were in attendance."

There were 500 books on the shelves, and librarian Susan TOWLES had classified each of them by the Cutter method she had learned at the Library of Congress in 1903.

On that same day, a branch of the public library was formally opened at the Eighth Street "colored school" with 100 books provided for the community's black population. That afternoon occasion, the paper reported, had also drawn a large audience.

Mayor POWELL was in fine form at the evening dedication, but he told a slight fib. He first said the ceremony would be "without ostentation" and then proceeded to provide ostentation galore.

He referred to the "beautiful building and the sacred treasures with which it is freighted …

"As long as heaven's blue arch shall bend above us; as long as God's sunlight shall warm out hearts, we will remember Andrew CARNEGIE and all that he has done for us."

Of the library board, the mayor said, "Heartfelt as a mother's love to her sweet babe must be our thanks to them."

And of publisher JONAS, who got the ball rolling in the first place, he said, "Let us perpetuate a testimonial of regard more enduring than marble."

The facility, it was announced, would be open every weekday - with the exception of holidays - from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m. in the summer and the rest of the year would operate from 2 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Borrowers could take one volume at a time ("or two volumes if of the same book") and keep it for two weeks. A 2-cent fine would be charged for each overdue day. If the book were not returned within three weeks, a messenger was to be sent to collect it and the fine - and an additional charge of 15 cents "for such messenger service."

It was made clear that no ink would be allowed in the reading room and that any marking of books "is strictly prohibited under penalty of law."

One of the rules was rather colorfully worded - especially considering the prudish air that prevailed at the time.

"Men and boys," it read, "shall remove their hats and remain uncovered within the building."

Reprinted with permission
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Saturday, March 30, 1996
Written by Judy Jenkins

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS