In 1816, Indiana became a state after attaining the required 60,000 population needed to petition for statehood. Imagine a pristine valley covered with native trees along the Ohio River, surrounded with hills, where the small town of Madison had grown stable enough to have a citizenry concerned about culture and education.
Alexander Meek, a prominent lawyer and far-sighted citizen, called together a group of men in the Ristine Inn, located on the corner of Second and West Streets, for the purpose of forming a Madison Society Library. They pooled their books and opened for business on April 18, 1818, continuing unabated until 1834.
Other interested parties joined their efforts, adding books and patrons and moving from place to place until the library finally found a home at the southwest corner of West and Second Streets in 1854. The first book of holdings was printed in 1856, enumerating 2,205 books that could be circulated. Total circulation for that year was 4,150 volumes. By 1880 the collection had grown to 3,000, and in 1888 the Library Association entered into an agreement with the city of Madison to make the library free to all citizens of Madison who could pay a $3 per year membership fee.
In 1921, after having been housed at various locations around town, the library was moved to the second floor of the Masonic Building on Main Street between Mulberry and Jefferson Streets.
There it remained until 1929, when a bond issue was secured for the purchase of the Powell House (above), located at the corner of Main and Elm. The library moved to this address in 1930. A Children’s Room was opened in 1954, made possible by a $5,000 donation from Mrs. Anna G. Powell. A bookmobile was added in 1956, which traveled a regular route to nine substations and every school in the county. The bookmobile, mounted on a 3/4 ton Chevrolet truck chassis, was a $3,000 investment and had a carrying capacity of 3,000 volumes. This vehicle was replaced in 1972 with one costing $6,500. It remained in use until 2002, when the Library Board of Trustees purchased a van to be used for library outreach services.
A Major Overhaul
In 1966 the building underwent major changes and construction, a two-year project. Bulging with 75,000 volumes, the library had reached its capacity, so bids were let for a new library. To provide a temporary site, the Library Board rented a large heated space in the garage of the Madison Armory, as well as four offices on the first floor.
Ground was broken for the new facility on March 2, 1966, which would include a new addition as well as extensive remodeling of the house itself. Full services were restored in November, 1967, with the formal dedication held on April 21, 1968. In the intervening time, a new fa챌ade was built, taking the front of the building to the sidewalk. Columns and a new entryway were added as a way of capturing Greek Revival architectural elements so common in other Madison buildings. On the Elm Street side, a new auditorium capable of seating 125 was added. A conference room and additional space were provided upstairs, while downstairs a large reading room with reference section was created. A mezzanine took shape over part of the reading room, which now houses the library’s genealogy and local history holdings. The basement of the new addition houses stacks and the Children’s Room. The carriage house was retained at the back of the property and now serves as the library’s storage facility.
In 2001, the library went digital. Our circulation system and catalog are now online and we offer high speed and wireless internet access for our patrons. The collection numbers about 117,000 items including books, videos, DVDs, books on CD and tape , as well as CD-Roms. Circulation has increased to almost 209,000 items per year, and we offer programs and services today that our founders could never have envisioned. Through it all, we remain a place where convivial conversation, helpful staff and friendly smiles encourage the citizenry of Madison and Jefferson County to enjoy their library.
Librarians/Directors of the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library
Moody Park: 1854-1857
James Siddall: 1867-1873
J.R. and C. N. Dickey: 1874-1877
S. E. Brewer: 1877-1883
Samuel B. Carlisle: 1883-1885
Mrs. H. B. Walker: 1885-1886
Mrs. M. S. Brooks: 1886-1888
Miss Elizabeth Garber: 1888-1893
Miss Nellie G. Harper: 1893-1943
Miss Margaret L. Dixon: 1943-1974
Donald C. Johnson: 1974-1977
Carol Cowles: 1978-1981
Dennis Babbitt: 1981-1999
Charlene Peters (Interim): 1999-2000
Mary Dianne Hill: 2000-2002
Charlene Abel (Interim): July-December 2002
Charlene Abel: December 2002-February 2009
Kristi Harms: March 2009 – May 2011
Virgie Dowell (Interim): May – December 2011
Brent Stokesberry: December 2011 – present