Mrs. Moses Mayer, representing the Fine Arts Club, called together some local citizens at her home on April 21, 1912 to discuss the possibility of starting a library in South Whitley. Dr. M.W. Webster was elected president of a committee that was appointed to look into suitable housing for a proposed library. On June 2, 1913, the committee reported the room above the newly located post office, at the southeast corner of Front Street, behind the current Corner Café, was available for $7.00 per month, which included heat and lighting.
The committee also selected Miss Gladys Stump as librarian on May 19, 1913, and conducted a book shower on June 12, at which time one hundred volumes became library property. The new library now had a home, a librarian and a collection. On August 20, the room was ready for occupancy and the library began to serve the patrons of South Whitley.
Almost at once the board petitioned the Carnegie Foundation for a building, but because of dissension with the Township Advisory Board and the inability to agree on some local details, the proposed library building was written off the record on November 10, 1917. Dr. Webster still pursued the idea until he was advised the Foundation was no longer making appropriations for library buildings.
Until tax money became available, funding for the new library was provided by the Men's Forward Movement League. The roster listed 34 members, including C.O. Enos, the father of future Library Director, Marian Bollinger.
In February 1919, the library moved to the first floor of the Knights of Pythias building on State Street (the future site of the Kent Theatre until 2012). This ground floor location was more accessible than the old quarters upstairs. It was a large room, well lighted and heated, and had plenty of space for a children's corner.
During the following month the schools of Cleveland Township had an egg collection day. The proceeds from the sale of the eggs were given to the library to use to buy furniture.
The library’s stay at this location was short-lived as a new merchandise company came to town and either bought or rented the building into which the library had moved. The board decided to buy the Landsdown property on what is now the corner of Front and Maple streets, the library's present location. The move to this location took place on November 4, 1919.
By 1930, eight thousand books had been added to the original collection, and the tax levy had been raised to five cents per $100 in the township and eight cents per $100 in town.
Generous Support of Library
In the early 1960s Fred Graham stalked into the library, tapping the floor with his cane, and said, “What this town needs is a new library.” The little white house that served as the library at that time had a leaky roof, sagging floors, and little space for programs or story hours. Mr. Graham had no children to leave his estate to, so he established a trust fund. The trust fund provided for living expenses of Mr. and Mrs. Graham and their housekeeper, Amelia Loechner Campbell, during their lifetimes, after which the South Whitley Library would be the sole recipient of the proceeds.
By June of 1968, all of Mr. Graham’s estate recipients had passed away, and the library building project received funding. The building of a new library was underway. The dimensions of the new brick library were to be 50 x 100 feet with additional space on the lower level.
By June of 1970, with the help of many volunteers, the library’s collection, temporarily housed at the Town Hall during construction, was moved across the street to the new library -- without the loss of one hour's service.
In 1989 Mr. Theodore Schultz donated his semi-precious gem collection to the library, along with $20,000 to fund an addition to house the gems. The John and Hester Adams Trust also donated $30,000. A community fund drive was then held to raise the remaining amount to fund a $125,000 two-level addition. In 1990 the project was completed, providing the library with room to display the gem collection as well as room to house part of the growing book collection.
New Century, More Changes
In 2003, the board applied a second time for a $500,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to fund a library expansion that would include the installation of an elevator. When the second grant request was denied, the grantor suggested the library hold a fund drive to raise a greater percentage of matching funds.
Led by recently hired director Darci Kessie, more than $100,000 was raised within six weeks through the generosity of individuals, families, local businesses, the Whitley County Community Foundation, the DEKKO Foundation, and the John and Hester Adams Trust. The Community and Rural Affairs grant request was then approved and construction began in the spring of 2006, and finished in the spring of 2007.
During construction, director Kessie applied for a grant from the Mary K. Peabody Foundation. The Foundation generously granted the funds to purchase all new shelving and furniture for the expansion. The Peabody Foundation also stepped in to assist when a new roof was needed.
The 2006-07 expansion and renovation enlarged the library by nearly fifty percent. The addition of an elevator made the lower level accessible to all. The expansion on the lower level provided two large community meeting rooms with kitchen access, two restrooms, and a large local history/genealogy room. The expansion on the main level provided room for a handicap accessible restroom, staff workroom, administration and bookkeeping offices, and an enlarged children’s room, complete with a whimsical tree “growing” into the ceiling. More room allows for a separate teen area.
A café is located near the entrance where patrons may enjoy a drink while reading or using the library’s Internet access. Public computers and laptops are available for use inside the library. Several comfortable reading areas are located throughout the building as well as in front of the fireplace.
Growth and improvements continued in the 2000s with the library adding a parking lot for its visitors on the east side of the building and creating designated handicapped parking on Front Street. With an eye to the future additional land was purchased for future expansion.
In 2012, the library’s name was changed from South Whitley Cleveland Township Public Library to the South Whitley Community Public Library to include all areas now served by the library.
The South Whitley Community Public Library, always a community treasure, is now able to provide even more services to the community it serves due to community support, grants, and gracious gifts. The dedicated and friendly staff continues to offer outstanding customer service. As the billboard signs at the edge of South Whitley say, “Visit our Library.” The library has something for everyone.