History of Fort Branch-Johnson Township Public Library
written by Sabrina Frederick
Fort Branch was growing. Many good things were happening in the late 1800s and early 1900s. With the coming of the railroad in 1849, industry came to Fort Branch and with it–people. There were mills, a tile factory, brick yards, Emge Packing, farm machinery repair, a lumber yard and even culture. As the town expanded, the citizens realized that to become a real town, culture needed to be added to the mix. Fort Branch saw come to fruition new schools, Sand’s Opera House, the Dreamland Theatre, Kuhn’s Hall (hosted many special events such as graduation ceremonies), and a number of traveling tent and medicine shows.
The Chautauqua Association would sponsor tent programs on various educational topics held in lots around town. One of the lots frequently used by the Association was Miss Elizabeth Irwin’s cow pasture located on Locust St. Who would have guessed that in a few short years that a Carnegie Library would be built there? This is actually where the library’s history begins.
Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish immigrant who made a fortune in steel. He considered himself a philanthropist and established libraries all over the United States “to improve the mind and welfare of the common person”. He offered many communities the chance to establish a library with the following criteria: that land must be provided, that matching funds be raised, and to establish a system of continued funding such as taxation. Illinois and Indiana benefited greatly from his grants. Many Carnegies are still functioning as libraries today. Locally, Carnegies can be found not only in Fort Branch, but in Owensville, Princeton, Evansville, Jasper and Huntingburg, as well. Andrew had 5 blueprints to choose from. That is why a Carnegie building is easily recognized.
In 1916, a group of citizens realized there was a need for a library in Fort Branch. They took Mr. Carnegie’s offer of $10,500. The group purchased Miss Irwin’s cow pasture. They raised funds by public subscription. The combined funds were then used to build the library. Some 1500 books were purchased or donated to fill the brand new shelves. In June, 1917, the library opened with Miss Mattie Holcomb as its first librarian. Miss Holcomb remained the librarian until July 4, 1934.
Today in 2017 (and a few directors later), the library system has 39,861 books, 4,147 movies, 141 magazine and newspaper subscriptions, 600 audio books and a brand new service of 423 e-books. The system serves two townships, Union and Johnson, with a service population of 8,291.
Back then, libraries were considered more as places of study and a quick check out. Quiet was the word of the day. No longer is that true. The Fort Branch-Johnson Township Public Library system’s board, director and staff are proud that the library system has a hometown atmosphere, but has services and collections that rival some of the bigger libraries. No longer is it a quiet library, but one of conversation and laughter while providing the community the services it needs.
One hundred years later, the Fort Branch Public Library is still an important part of this community. In preparation of the 100th year, the library has undergone some refurbishments. The aluminum front doors have been replaced with beautiful wood and brass fixtures. The old florescent light in the entryway has been replaced with a wonderful replica of what might have been there at one time. The staff’s break room and kitchenette have both been updated with added cabinets for additional storage space, a new sink, refrigerator and a new paint job. Even the Learning Center got some sorely needed cabinets. With continued love and forward thinking, this wonderful old building will be meeting the needs of this community for the next 100 years.
So how did Haubstadt get a library branch? Prior to 1982, there was no library service in Johnson Township. Some Haubstadt residents went to the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Public Library (EVPL) for their library needs. Evansville provided a free short-term card to those who lived outside of their taxing district because they either worked in Vanderburgh County or attended school there.
In 1979, Indiana Public Library Law changed to allow reciprocal borrowing among Indiana libraries provided that individual library boards approved. Indiana State Library encouraged Indiana public libraries to sign the Reciprocal Borrowing Covenant. This meant that all those who signed the covenant would honor all covenant members’ library cards. The public library in Evansville did not sign the covenant and immediately withdrew the free short-term cards, as per conditions of the new law. EVPL began to require that Indiana residents present their hometown cards to be able to have borrowing privileges there. This left Haubstadt residents, who were not in a library service area, without prospect of having a library card unless they paid for a non-resident card at any public library. To make matters worse, the non-resident cards were only good at the library from which they were purchased, according to Public Library Law. Unless Haubstadt residents purchased a non-resident card from the Evansville Library, they would not be able to use EVPL if they bought a card anywhere else.
Haubstadt residents, used to having Evansville-Vanderburgh County Public Library services, began talking to the Haubstadt Town Board to consider establishing a Johnson Township Library. In August, 1980, Alice Chamberlain, Clerk-Treasurer wrote to the Indiana State Library to send a copy of the law relating to the formation of a library board and getting the library funded. The town board was making steps to purchase a building that would house a library.
Martha Roblee, Library Consultant at the state library, replied later that month. Mrs. Roblee explained that it would not be possible to establish library service because the Public Library Law required a population of 10,000 as a minimum to start a new library. She encouraged that Johnson Township either contract or merge with another established library. In both cases, it meant levying a tax to support library service for Haubstadt. If the township pursued a library in any other way, it would not be considered a public library and therefore exempting it from using taxes as revenue. The library would then be considered private and support would have to come from donations or by charging of fees. Martha suggested approaching Fort Branch or Owensville in providing library services for the township.
Through the efforts of directors, Virginia Callis and Lois Kissel, and a host of other people, a merger finally happened by joining Johnson Township with Union Township to form the Fort Branch-Johnson Township Public Library. By September of 1982, the Haubstadt Branch moved to a leased room behind the Haubstadt Town Hall. Its initial function was to simply have a place to pick up and drop off books with a small collection of its own. The popularity of the little branch grew and was stuffed to the ceiling to offer the best selection of library material possible. Programming could not be conducted because of the lack of space.
The Indiana State Library in ensuing years began to train librarians and directors and to strengthen public library laws to provide the best in collections and in programs for public libraries. As a result, Indiana is ranked 10th nationally in having the best in public library service.
It was clear that the Haubstadt Branch could not keep up with the newest trends because of space issues that they had. In 2012, grant money was secured through OCRA and Toyota Manufacturing of Indiana. Private donations from all over the Gibson County area were received through the Gibson County Community Foundation. Other funding came from the town of Haubstadt and the Haubstadt Sommerfest, Inc. with some funding coming from the library system itself. A dream that had been in the making since 2003 was finally a reality with infinite possibilities for the construction of a new branch library in Haubstadt.
VPS Architecture and Danco Construction was given the task to design and build a new 2500 square foot building on what was formerly known as Will’s Corner. Construction began on April 8, 2013. The Haubstadt Library moved into its new home Thanksgiving week of 2013. The library now enjoys not only a new multi-functional building, larger shelf space for books and movies, but a variety of programs, as well.