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A Timeline of Willard Library

Take a fascinating stroll through the history of an Evansville, Indiana, icon; learn about the people and events that have shaped Willard Library.

August 23, 1876

A letter was sent to the Library trustees from Willard Carpenter, outlining his plans and wishes for "THE WILLARD LIBRARY."

August 23, 1876

The property on which the Library and Park would sit, as well as the property that would endow the project, was deeded to the Library trustees by Willard and Lucina Carpenter.

May 16, 1877

Groundbreaking was held for the Library.

August 13, 1877

The stone foundation of the Library was completed to top of the water table.

September 2, 1877

The stonework was finished, and a construction hiatus began.


Wishing to see the Library completed in his lifetime and impatient with waiting for land values to increase, Willard Carpenter urges that the work resume. It did.

An Architectural Note: Terra cotta was used extensively for exterior decorations on the Victorian Gothic building, including the owls that represent wisdom.

November 3, 1883

Willard Carpenter died several days after suffering a paralyzing stroke, and before seeing the completion of the Library.

March 28, 1885

Opening ceremonies of Willard Library are conducted, despite horrendous weather conditions.

August 1896

Suit was brought against Willard Library by Willard Carpenter's daughter Louise, to recover property held by the Library. In the suit, the would-be heiress, having been snubbed by her father, claimed that he had been of unsound mind and had been unduly influenced in establishing the Library. The court found in favor of the Library.


Martha Orr Bayard bequeathed to Willard Library the books in her husband's library, to be used as reference books, along with funds to purchase cases for the books. These are housed in the second-floor Bayard Room, in memory of Samuel and "Mattie" Orr Bayard.


Edmund L. Craig, president of the public library board of Evansville, proposed that all libraries in the city be brought under common supervision. The Willard Board responded that they could not consider the proposal, since the terms of the Carpenter Trust forbade the corporation from operating buildings other than on Willard Park.

October 3, 1919

Well-loved Head Librarian Otilda Goslee died at age 76. Perhaps her greatest contribution to the Library was to firmly establish the tradition of warm, friendly service for which Willard Library had become known, and is still known today.


A night janitor at the Library reported seeing an 'all-grey' lady, with grey shoes and grey veil, as he entered the basement during his 3 a.m. visit to stoke the coal furnace. He was so startled that he dropped his flashlight. He reported that the image then dissolved into shadows. The night janitor quit his job shortly thereafter.

February 20, 1943

The Library held its first children's story hour, with Margaret Maier as storyteller.


Willard Library's first Easter Egg Tree, inspired by the Katherine Milhous book Egg Tree, was created by children's librarian Margaret Maier. The Willard Library Easter Egg Tree became an annual tradition, later featuring eggs decorated as literary characters.


Willard Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

December 1972

Friends of Willard Library was formed, in order to "promote awareness and use of Willard Library by providing volunteer service, by increasing financial support, and by sponsoring cultural programs for the community."


A library consultant visited Willard Library to provide recommendations to help the board with long-range planning. As a result, the board determined to establish an archives and research center, building on the strength of the Library's special collections. It would be named the Regional and Family History Center, and would be housed on the second floor.

March 1977

The Tri-State Genealogical Society was officially begun. By 1983, the society had more than 500 members. To this day, the Society continues as an effective partner with the Library in promoting the study of family history in the Evansville area.

March 23, 1986

The Library hosted a reception to mark the publication of Where There's a Willard, a history of Willard Library.

June 18, 1986

The Library announced construction of a climate-controlled room in the basement for storing rare documents, such as letters and photos.

November 4, 1989

Margaret Maier died. Known as "Miss Margaret" during her 50-year tenure as children's librarian, Maier was well-known for her annual Easter Egg Tree. She had helped several child patrons who later achieved national fame, including Bob Griese, Ron Glass, Tom Armstrong, and Andy Benes.

July 1, 1994

Adult Services Librarian Greg Hager was promoted to Director of Willard Library.

September 1, 1994

Installation of the Library's local area networked computer system was completed.

March 28, 1995

Television personality Willard Scott acknowledged Willard Library's one hundred-tenth anniversary on the NBC network's Today Show.

July 22, 2007

Willard Library opened the Adele and Paul Torian Native American Leaders of the Mid-19th Century permanent exhibit. The three volumes of the folio-sized History of the Indian Tribes of North America by Thomas L. McKenney, published in 1838, 1842, and 1844, were a gift from Adele and Paul Torian.

May 22, 2008

The Captain Henry Vanderburgh Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution dedicates an historical marker in honor of library founder, Willard Carpenter. The marker, featuring an open bronze book on an unfinished gray granite pedestal, is located in the front flower bed to the right of Willard Library's front entrance.

March 28, 2010

Willard Library celebrates its 125th Anniversary by hosting an Open House. 600 Willard Library children and adult patrons attend throughout the day to celebrate Willard's past, present and future.

November 19, 2010

Dedication of the north side of Willard Park. Enhanced through a generous $100,000 donation from neighbor Berry Plastics, the park re-design features perennial flower beds, new trees, berms, donated benches, and paved pathways designed by landscape architect, Rundell Ernstberger.

February 28, 2011

Library Director, Greg Hager presents a proposal to the Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau for a 2.4 million dollar, 8,000 square foot below ground expansion of Willard Library for the purpose of housing the library archives and containing a gallery capable of seating 150 people. Willard Library, having already raised 1.5 million dollars, announces that this would be the first ever physical expansion of Willard Library.

February 8, 2015

The first expansion in Willard Library’s history was opened to the public, attendees came internationally to attend the grand opening.