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Letter to the Library Trustees from Willard Carpenter

Evansville, August 23, 1876.


I have intended for many years to devote to some public use, a portion of the property and means which I have acquired by a long life of labor. I have, at various times, endeavored to benefit the community in which my life has been mostly spent, by inaugurating various enterprises. Legal difficulties, and other obstacles, have intervened to render inoperative schemes for the public good, which I have at various times undertaken to put in operation.

After consultation with many gentlemen of this city, I have concluded, without further delay, to establish and endow a PUBLIC LIBRARY, to be located in a public park, on land owned by me, situated in the city of Evansville. I am induced to do this in the well-grounded hope that such an institution may become useful toward the improvement of the moral and intellectual culture of the inhabitants of Evansville, and collaterally to those of the State of Indiana; and also toward the enlargement and diffusion of a taste for the fine arts.

The city of Evansville has reached in population and commercial importance a period in which such a scheme should, and I have no doubt will, meet with the hearty approval and assistance of the municipal authorities and all private citizens.

In presenting to you the object I propose, I wish you to understand that the details proper to its organization and government, and its future control and conduct, are to be left to your judgment and discretion, and the perpetuity of that control I confide to you and your successors, to be appointed in the manner described in this letter.

But I desire to present my views in general of the object and purposes of the proposed institution, in order that by no possibility shall the property hereby donated ever be diverted to any other purpose; and that the result of much thought and labor on my part, shall be commensurate with the high objects to be attained; and as a guide, and, as it were, an organic law for you, in the discharge of your duties.

I have directed skilled attorneys to prepare a deed conveying to you the property therein described, estimated by me to be worth the sum of Four Hundred Thousand Dollars; the said deed to be signed and executed by my wife and myself. The property thereby conveyed lies in the limits of Evansville or contiguous thereto.

I desire and direct that the building for the Public Library hereby proposed shall be located on that portion of the property designated in said deed which is generally known as Carpenter’s Field. The remainder of said tract of land known as Carpenter’s Field, shall be forever kept as a Public Park. It shall be, at the discretion of the Trustees, enclosed by a neat fence; and fountains, flowers, trees, grass-plats, and all the usual accessories of a Park shall be provided and kept in order, so as to make the Park a resort for people for all time to come.

I desire that the co-operation of the city in this scheme of a Public Park shall be secured, so that the square now owned by the city, adjoining to this tract of land, shall be made subsidiary to the general purpose of promoting public health and popular recreation. The control of the said Public Park, under proper municipal regulations, shall remain with the Trustees hereby appointed. You and your successors will constitute, forever, a Board of Trustees, seven in number, to be maintained in perpetual succession, for the accomplishment, preservation, and supervision of the purposes for which the Library and Park are to be established. To you and your successors, therefore, by virtue of the said deed, and this instrument, I give full and exclusive power to take, receive and hold, in fee simple, the said real estate in said deed particularly described, and to sell and convey, in fee simple, at such times and for such prices as may be deemed advisable all the said real estate except that which is particularly set apart for the said Library and Park, and out of the proceeds of such sales to erect a suitable building, to improve, ornament and adorn said Park, and to purchase books, maps, and works of art for the use of the people of all classes, races and sexes, free of charge forever. A permanent fund shall be created out of the proceeds of such sales for the support of the Institution.

This is the general purposes, stated in general language. It is proper to enter more particularly into detail. In the general scheme I wish to provide:

  • First. For the erection of a suitable building for Library and Art purposes. I desire that the funds of the Institution shall not be squandered in the erection at the beginning of too expensive a building. I desire, in my own life, to see this plan in successful operation. The building should be so constructed as to admit of harmonious additions. A general plan should be devised, which, in the future, by the means of the Institution, or by endowment, may be developed into a magnificent edifice as the city grows and prospers.
  • Second. For an extensive Library, to be well furnished in every department of knowledge, and of the most approved literature, which is to be maintained for the free use of all persons who may desire to consult it, and be supplied with every convenience for daily reference and study within appointed hours.
    It should consist of the best works, on every subject embraced within the scope of its plan, and so completely adapted as the means at your command may allow, to satisfy the researches of students who may be engaged in the pursuit of knowledge not ordinarily attained in the private libraries of the city. It should be guarded and preserved from abuse by such regulations as the judgment and experience of the Trustees may adopt.
    Recognizing the fact that our city has not a population greater than forty thousand people and desiring that this scheme may redound to the greatest benefit of the greatest number, and believing that, in so small a city, the privilege of withdrawing books can be efficiently guarded from abuse, I direct that such a portion of the books as the Trustees may designate may be withdrawn for perusal at home by any person, under proper rules and restrictions. The Library, therefore, should combine the two plans, and be both a reference and a circulating Library.
  • Third. I have very thoroughly examined into the propriety of connecting a Public Hall, and a system of Free Lectures with the Library. From the best information I can derive, from skilled and intelligent Librarians of the great libraries of this country, I have concluded that the incorporation of such schemes, with a Library, is productive of harm. I, therefore, desire that there be no Public Hall for Lecture purposes, provided in the Library Building.
  • Fourth. I trust that the means at the disposal of the Trustees will, in time, enable them to establish a Gallery of Art in connection with the Library. I do not desire that means should be diverted from the purchase of books, to the procurement of pictures or statuary. But, if consistent with the general plan, a Gallery of Art can be established, and by degrees, filled with fine specimens of art, I believe that such a Gallery would be a source of great and pure pleasure and instruction to the people. I recommend that such objective be kept in view to be put into execution in the discretion of the Trustees.
  • Fifth. My desire being to afford immediate and practical benefit to the people, and there being no reading room in Evansville, I desire that there should be connected with the Library a Public Reading Room. It should contain the standard Reviews, Magazines, and Newspapers of the day.
  • Sixth. I have yielded to a general expression of the public desire, and have consented that the name of the proposed institution should be “THE WILLARD LIBRARY” and the name of the Park should be “THE WILLARD PARK.” I, herefore, desire they be so designated.
  • SeventhI leave to the Trustees the power to determine the days, on which the Library shall be open to the public.
  • Eighth. As I desire to devote a considerable portion of my own time to the interest of the Library, I have directed, that in deed of conveyance, my own name shall be included as one of the Trustees.
  • Ninth. I have selected your names as Trustees, because of my personal knowledge of your fitness for this important trust. I desire that you shall hold, and administer the trust thus confided to you, during your lives, or residence in Evansville.
    Removal from the city should vacate your positions. Vacancies, occurring by death, or removal, or resignation, should be filled by election, a majority vote being sufficient to elect. Should, for any reason, the number of the Trustees be reduced to three, the Judge of the Vanderburgh Circuit Court shall fill the vacancies by appointment.
  • TenthIt would not be proper to enter minutely upon instructions, which are more properly part of the By-Laws of such an Institution. You are, necessarily, clothed with the power of making By-Laws not inconsistent with the terms of this instrument.
    You should elect such officers and committees as are necessary and proper; you should provide stringent rules for the proper care of the property and funds of the institution, for expenditures and the auditing of accounts. In these regards, too much care and economy cannot be exercised.
  • Eleventh. You are hereby clothed with the power, and directed, out of the funds now put at your disposal, to compensate the gentlemen who have rendered legal services in proceedings necessary to be brought, and for such other services as they are rendered, and to pay other incidental expenses. I am satisfied that such charges will be reasonable, and I direct their payment.
  • Twelfth. These are the general instructions I have to impart to you. I leave very much to your wisdom and judgment.

I hope you will accept the important trust now confided to you, and that you and I may be permitted to see the Library in successful operation, and, that our joint and harmonious labors may tend to embellish our city, to instruct and elevate the people, and to promote the growth of virtue and knowledge.

I have, in this letter, availed myself, to some extent, of the ideas and language of the late George Peabody, on a similar occasion.

I am, with great respect,
Your friend,
Thomas E. Garvin,
Alexander Gilchrist,
Henry F. Blount,
John Laval,
Matthew Henning
Charles H. Butterfield.