For over one hundred years, folks traveling south on Main Street in Henderson have been admiring the white limestone and towering columns of the Henderson County Public Library. This institution first opened its doors to the public on August 1, 1904, after years of hard work by the publisher of the Henderson Journal, Edward Jonas. Mr. Jonas first began his campaign to bring a library to Henderson over a game of golf with the well-known philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Mr. Carnegie agreed to give the community the funding needed to build the library, if the community would purchase a suitable lot and would enact a tax that would cover the expenses related to running a library. It took Mr. Jonas until 1902 to get the backing of the local government, but soon things began to fall into place.
Susan Towles was hired in 1903 as head librarian, and on that opening day in 1904 she began her 45-year tenure as the city's guardian of information and knowledge. When she first started her career, the main library had only 500 books, with another 100 at a separate branch for the African-American citizens. Over the years, the library and the public that it served grew tremendously, so that in 1960, Miss Towles successor, Ms. Sarah Winstead, was faced with the first major renovation of the library. During this first of three renovations that the Henderson County Public Library would undergo, the downstairs was transformed to accommodate an expanded adult non-fiction section and a children's area. The planning stage for the next renovation would begin in 1974 while Ms. Sherrie Clem was head of the library, however actual construction would not begin until 1979, shortly after the appointment of the director Donald Wathen. This project was completed in 1980. During this construction, a 10,283 square foot addition was added the library to hold the adult and reference departments. The upstairs area of the original building was transformed into offices and an archive and local history room. The most recent changes were completed in 2000, with the addition of a new children's department.
In 2002, with the library larger and offering more services and technologies than could have even been imagined in 1904, the focus began to shift from growing and changing to restoring and preserving. During January 2002 a team of art restoration experts were commissioned to begin restoration of the murals that adorn the inside of the rotunda in the original building. As the team began to remove years of dirt and paint, several surprising discoveries were made, including the painted laurel leaf borders that frame each of the murals and the names of classic authors that appear between each painting. In June of 2003, the next stage of the restoration commenced with the copper roofing on the rotunda being replaced and the stained glass skylight in the center of the rotunda being removed, cleaned, and re-leaded. Also in 2003, the brass chandelier that hangs from the stained glass was restored to its original brilliance. January 2004 brought the replacement of the worn metal front doors, for replicas of the old wooden doors that once greeted the library's patrons. During this time, the woodwork in the foyer area was also refinished to have it match the new "old" doors and the brass light fixtures were polished and refinished to match the shiny brass chandelier. The final restoration for the old building's centennial was the painstaking uncovering and restoration of the tile mosaic that covered the floor in the foyer as well as the porch outside leading up to the front doors. This project was completed in May 2004.
On August 1, 2004, the Henderson County Public Library celebrated 100 years of service to the community with an official centennial celebration. Please come by any time and see how things have changed, and enjoy how, with a little work, some things have stayed the same after all these years.
Over the years several different reasons have been suggested as the reason the engraving above the front doors uses a "V" rather than a "U". There is not a precise answer to this query, however we are able to make an educated guess based on several sources of information.
According to the World Book encyclopedia, U was adopted from the Greek letter Y. The Romans dropped the bottom stroke and wrote the letter as V. This was used for both the consonant sound V and the vowel sound U. Some time around 900 CE people began to use V at the beginning of a word and U in the middle of a word. It was during the time between 1400 CE and 1600 CE that U became the letter commonly used for the vowel sound.
There was a Renaissance of the Classical style of architecture in the United States from 1890-1940. William R. Ware, the founder of M.I.T.'s School of Architecture, taught a style that he called American Vignola. (Vignola was an Italian architect who codified the standards for Classical Architecture in his work Rules of the Five Orders of Architecture).
In the early 1900's, it was common for educated men to be taught both Greek and Latin. Therefore the people involved with the design of this building and many others during this American Renaissance more than likely would have known the Classic Roman alphabet used the symbol V for both U and V.
We are not the only library to be a "pvblic" library. Pictures have been found of several other libraries where a V is substituted for a U. While their architectural style does not always match our Classical columns, domes and pediments, most of them were built during this time of American Vignola. So it is accurate to say that we were built during a time when architects and builders were embracing Classic themes. Therefore it is very likely that the engraving reads "Henderson Pvblic Library" because it was in accordance to what was popular in the architectural world at the time our library was built. This is also a likely explanation for the architect's decision to design our library in the Classical style.
The library has over 117,000 items available for checkout or in-house use.
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The library has a large collection of audio-visual materials.