Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Furor Over Proposed Library Site (Spring 1913)

We continue sauntering along memory lane with more historical tidbits from a century ago, when the Mooresville Public Library was first established.

Between January and May, 1912, citizens of the Town of Mooresville, Indiana signed petitions to construct a new library building and authorizing tax levies by which to subsidize the project.  The Mooresville Town Board adopted a resolution in May, 1912 to levy a library construction tax.  At this time, the first Library Board of Trustees was also created.

Further financial developments swiftly followed.  In June, 1912, residents of Brown Township, Morgan County were invited to support the Mooresville Library (in exchange for use privileges).  In July, 1912, a $10,000 grant application was made to the Andrew Carnegie Foundation to fund building construction.  It was this grant that ultimately paid for the town's new library.

Before foundations could be laid, however, there was the important question of where the library should be situated.  Between February and April, 1913, there were public discussions on this issue, and the Town Board initially proposed to purchase the land on the east end of West Washington Street, upon which the former Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Church had been located.  Perhaps you know the place.

Painting of the old Methodist Episcopal (M.E.) Church
West Washington Street, Mooresville, IN
(Click Pictures to Enlarge)

Photo of old M.E. Church
(From p. 28 of A Brief History of Mooresville and Vicinity,
by Almira Harvey Hadley [1918])

2007 photo of the former old M.E. Church site

When this location was initially proposed for the new library, a public furor promptly erupted.  This, presumably, was unanticipated by the Town Board, as they apparently felt that this was a "done deal."  Not so, said a critically vocal public.  Why all the fuss?  The site was well-wooded with trees that were nearly as old as the town itself (founded in 1824).  What was not to like?

Old Cemetery (active 1829-1889)
located behind the former old M.E. Church site

Behind the old M.E. Church was the old town cemetery, which was active between 1829 and 1889.  The town founder, Samuel Moore, was the last person buried there.  Proponents of the lot as a library site suggested that the building could sit approximately where the old church had been.  The immediate neighbors in the back yard were quiet, in any event, which would be ideal for a library atmosphere.  (I'm not joking; this was quite seriously offered as a justification.)

Few public proposals have sparked such vehement controversy in Mooresville.  The masses arose, if not with pitchforks and torches, then certainly in elevated voices of protest.  "Nobody wants a library next to a cemetery," one prominent townsperson declared at a public meeting.  "An air of gloom would descend upon the structure," another citizen stated, "which would both depress and discourage [the library's] use."  While everyone respected the deceased buried in Old Cemetery, few wanted a library immediately adjacent to their last resting places.

During March-April, 1913, the Town Board scrambled to secure a more suitable library location.  No public revenues were used to purchase land for the library.  All monies were privately donated.  Thanks to a significant donation from Arthur Newby (of Indianapolis 500 Brickyard fame) and Judge Smith MacPherson, as well as contributions from the general public, a lot was purchased at 30 West Main Street, directly across from the McCracken House, which was a popular inn and restaurant that drew customers from across central Indiana via the Interurban railway.

McCracken House (1912) on West Main Street, Mooresville, IN
Directly across from the new library site (1913)

The Library's postal address was subsequently renumbered as 32 West Main Street, when the local post office updated its delivery addresses to reflect later changes in the use of various properties in the downtown Mooresville area.

Having secured the land for the new library, there remained the question of providing citizens with temporary library services.  In March, 1913, a temporary reading room was established on the second floor of the I.O.O.F. Building, which was located on the northeast corner of the intersection of Main and Indiana Streets in downtown Mooresville.

I.O.O.F. Building, downtown Mooresville, IN (ca. 1885)

The townsfolk were quite pleased with the new library lot at 30 West Main Street.  But actual construction was yet to come.  Actually, the town needed first to hire an architect and general contractor.  But none of this could proceed without money, and, for that, the citizens of Mooresville had to await the decision of the Andrew Carnegie Foundation.

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