Willard Library

Willard Library is the oldest operating library in the state of Indiana. It is located in Evansville, Indiana.


Willard Carpenter

Founder Willard Carpenter wanted to leave a lasting legacy in Evansville, a town he had helped to build through politics and business.

In the spring of 1877, at age 74, Willard Carpenter, hoping to speedily complete the library project, made two trips to Chicago to consult with architects. Robert Boyd and Henry Brickley were chosen to be the architects for the job, and groundbreaking was scheduled for May 17.

In the spring of 1877, at age 74, Willard Carpenter, hoping to speedily complete the library project, made two trips to Chicago to consult with architects. Robert Boyd and Henry Brickley were chosen to be the architects for the job, and groundbreaking was scheduled for May 17.

By August 13, the stone foundation had been completed to the top of the water table, and by September 2, 1877, the stonework was finished. But at that point, the foundations were sealed to be made weathertight. The real estate market was very weak, and the trustees had decided to wait to continue construction until their land holdings—the source of project funding—could command higher selling prices.

Quelling rumors that the project had been abandoned, work on the Library resumed in 1882. Carpenter wanted to see the Library built in his lifetime, and although the land values had not rebounded as hoped, he was ready to “hurry matters up.”

The former architects were no longer in business in Evansville, but their successors, James and Merritt Reid, took over the project.

Inspired by the “Emma Willard School” of Troy, New York, Willard Carpenter had always wanted to found an educational institution with the name “Willard.” Carpenter’s son-in-law observed that he “seemed to be struck on the name.” And that’s how Willard Library got its name.

With construction in full swing in 1883, Willard Carpenter, now 80 years old, was on the job site every day, inspecting the work of the paid laborers—and working. Not everyone was thrilled with that arrangement. His family was said to be embarrassed that he was hauling around wheelbarrows and climbing up on the roof; and one has to wonder how excited the workers were to have his watchful eye on them daily.

His work came to an end, however, in late October 1883, when Carpenter suffered a paralyzing stroke. On November 3, he died.


By 1884, Willard Library, at a construction cost of $60,000, was nearly ready to open. It was time to stock the shelves with books.

The purchase of new volumes for the Library was personally overseen by Samuel Bayard, who traveled to Cincinnati for that purpose. Alongside the newly purchased volumes, most of the first 10,000 books to grace the shelves were hand-me-downs from the Evansville Library Association and the Public Library of Evansville.

The first librarians at Willard Library, Otilda Goslee and Lou Scantlin, had been employees at the Public Library of Evansville.

Opening ceremonies were scheduled for March 28, 1885, and a public invitation ran in the morning Courier that day:

“A cordial invitation to the public is extended, and as the library is for the masses, rich and poor alike, the capacity of the house ought to be fully tested…. The members of the board desire it to be distinctly understood that all citizens are cordially invited to attend the opening ceremonies and that they will be heartily welcomed.”

The Courier article also contained a detailed description of the interior of the Library—since most onlookers would have been familiar with the exterior that had been under construction in plain view for some time. The article contained a characterization of the books, as well.

“On entering from the wide stone stairway into the vestibule the unique patterned tile flooring attracts the eye at once. To the left is the spacious library room, which, with its handsome tile flooring, heavy oak finished woodwork and corniced ceiling, does full justice to the outer appearance of the building. Behind a railing reaching across the room are ranged the book shelves substantially filled with mental food of so varied an order and supply to meet the wants of ‘all sorts and conditions of men.’

“The books represent a judicious and careful selection, and it is observable from the well-worn and used condition of those of a solid nature that the study of the sciences, philosophy, history and the arts here is extensive. Of light fiction the number of books is very meagre, and this fact has caused not a little complaint, but it has been the means of elevating the taste of not a few to a liking for standard novels, with which the library is well stocked, and even to heavier reading.

“The office room on this floor is furnished in the same excellent manner as its surroundings. From the vestibule the broad heavy balustrade staircase leads to a large room above corresponding with the library room below. It is proposed to make this the reading room. Instead of plate glass, as in the library room, the windows here are ornamented stained glass. In one corner is a room corresponding with the office down stairs, and which has been engaged by the Ladies’ Literary club, which has furnished it with exquisite taste.”

On opening day, the Library had been decorated to receive its public for the first time. An orchestra was prepared to play. Addresses were scheduled to be delivered by prominent citizens and members of the board of trustees. And the weather was dreadful.

Although the crowd size was no doubt diminished by the elements, the opening went on, as scheduled, on March 28, 1885.

Just two days later, on March 30, patrons began checking out books. In a two-day period, 98 people registered as patrons. In that day, to be issued a library card, one needed a co-signer who would vouch for the character of the cardholder.

Willard Library was opened in 1885 under the directive to be a public library for the use of the people of all classes, races and sexes free of charge forever.


The Grey Lady ghost was first reported to have been seen in Willard Library in the late 1930s by a custodian. Since that time, those looking—and not looking—for the apparition have reported unexplained events and sights.

The Grey Lady ghost was featured on Ghosthunters television show in a Discovery Channel documentary; and in local, national, and international radio and television reports.

Ghost Sitings

  • The Grey Lady was last reportedly sighted on August 10, 2010 in the basement hallway by the Assistant Children’s Librarian.
  • Psychics visiting the library in 2007 say they were able to verify that a ghost has been there, and paranormal investigative groups have brought in equipment designed to locate it.
  • Several library employees have reported seeing the ghost, including Margaret Maier, Children’s Librarian, and Helen Kamm, Library Assistant.
  • During a visit to the library, lecturers from the University of Southern Indiana say they saw the ghost peering into water.
  • Policemen responding to a security alarm at the library spotted two ghosts in an upstairs window of the library.
  • A library patron reported an encounter with the Grey Lady in the library elevator, and a local weathercaster also reported an encounter with the spirit.

Hundreds of people look for the Grey Lady every October, during Ghost Tours sponsored by the library. Eight—hundred curious individuals attended the first such tour in the late *1990s, which have been a popular annual event ever since. Check the calendar of library events for upcoming tours.

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