Central Library

During December 1979, Joseph Hayse, a library patron, filed a class action lawsuit to force the local government to properly fund the library with the state minimum.  State law required that public libraries be supported “at not less than 5 cents nor more than 15 cents per one hundred dollars of assessed property valuations.”  For at least the last ten years, the city had refused to meet the minimum funding requirement.   The suit claimed that $861,770 was due the library under the state law.[1]

In March 1980, the library reviewed purchasing the old Stewart’s Department Store for a new main library.  The building was on Main Street at Walnut (now Martin Luther King).  However, after structural review the building was determined not to be capable of holding the heavy shelving of books.[2]

Library Referendum:

During July 1980, the Library Board approved a proposal for a new property tax for the library.  The new tax would raise property taxes by a “dime a day for a new, improved library.”  The new tax required the approval of the voters.  On August 28, 1980, the council approved place the proposal on the November ballot.  However, the referendum was defeated by a margin of two to one.[3]

During July 1982, Francis Lamason was elected as chairman of the Board of Trustees.  She was reelected twice to the position, serving until 1988.  During her tenure, the Hayse lawsuit was settled and the new Central Library was planned.[4]

In April 1983, the Fayette Circuit Court ruled in the library favor.  The ruling required that the funding be increased from $1,400,000 to $2,600,000.[5]   The city council under Mayor Scotty Baesler appealed this ruling to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. [6]  In September 1984, the Court of Appeals ruled in flavor of the library.[7]

Northside Branch

On February 22, 1984, First Lady Barbara Bush dedicated the new Northside Branch.  The property was donated by Julia McCullough on Russell Cave Road.  The branch is opened on August 20, 1984.[8]

After the court’s rulings, the Library Board began planning for a new Central Library.  The site selected was part of the proposed World Coal Center, which was never built, on Main Street (between Limestone and Martin Luther King).  The center was funded in part by a state grant and to settle with the state the site was donated to the library.  In February 1985, the first designs by Sherman Carter Barnhart were prepared.[9]

In February 1985, the Kentucky Supreme Court refused to review the city’s appeal of the Court of Appeals opinion.[10]

After the decision, the Library’s Board and Mayor Baesler began working on plans to finance the new Central Library.  After months of disagreements, in December 1985, both sides agreed to a new five-story library at the cost of $10,000,000 and two new $1,000,000 branches.  The new libraries were fund in part by a city bond issue of $12,000,000.[11]

During September 1985, the card catalog was computerized on the PAC (Public Access Catalog) System.  This was an unpopular move with a number of patrons and League of Women Voters protesting the decision.[12]

During the year ending June 30, 1986 the library reached the million circulation mark, with a total of 1,019,744 books checked out the prior year.[13]

On June 3, 1987, ground was broken on a new Central Library at Phoenix Park, on Main Street.  The five-story building with 111.400 square feet and cost $9,480,034.  The design contained a central rotunda, with octagonal skylight.[14]

In March 1988, a controversy erupted over the decorative granite on the outside face of the building.  The granite selected from catalog was mined from a South African quarry.  South Africa practiced apartheid (separation of the races) at the time.  Local activists began a protest to have the granite removed from the library.  While this controversy was going on, one of the steel workers topped the building out with a Confederate flag.  The cost of removing the granite were prohibitive and the Library’s board erected a plaque regarding the granite in the lobby.[15]

On March 25, 1989, the Main Library on Short Street is closed to begin relocating books to the new facility.  The new Central Library opened on April 6, 1989.[16]

Central Library

In September 1992, the Eagle Creek Branch opened and the Eastland Branch is closed. [17]

Eagle Creek Branch

In May 1997, the Lexington Public Library Foundation is established by William M. Ambrose and John B. Clark.  The foundation purpose was:

“to seek outside funds that would enhance the quality and range of Library services beyond the level that can be provided by county funding.” [18]

On December 8, 1997, the Beaumont Branch opened, replacing the Southside Branch.[19]  In February 2001, the Lansdowne Branch was closed and replaced by the Tates Creek Branch.[20]  In September 2004, the Village Branch, on Versailles Road, was opened and expanded in 2008.[21]

Beaumont Branch

Tates Creek Branch

Village Branch

In 2007, a new Northside Branch was built on the opposite end of the existing lot.[xxii]


[1] Lexington Herald, December 20, 1979, page A-3, columns 1-4.

[2] Lexington Leader, March 28, 1980, page A-1, columns 1-3 and June 9, 1980, page A-3, columns 1-6.

[3] Lexington Herald, July 24, 1980, page A-3, columns 1-4, August 29, 1980, page A-3, columns 4-6 and November 5, 1980, page A-4, columns 1-2 and A-10 Lexington Leader, October 28, 1980, page A-1, columns 4-6 and A-12.

[4] Lexington Herald-Leader, July 6, 1984, page B-1, column 1.

[5] Lexington Herald-Leader, April 9, 1983, page A-1, columns 1-6 and A-12.

[6] Lexington Herald-Leader, April 12, 1983, page A-1, column 6 and September 17, 1983, page B-2, column 1.

[7] Lexington Herald-Leader, Page A-1, columns 1-3 and A-6 and notes for James Lee speech, October 2007.

[8] Lexington Herald-Leader, December 28, 1983, page D-1, columns 2-3, February 6, 1984, page b_2, columns 2-3, February 7, 1984, page D-1, columns 1-3 and February 21, 1984, page B-1, column 6.

[9] Lexington Herald-Leader, February 1, 1985, page B-2, column 6 and February 5, 1985, page B-3, columns 2-3.

[10] Lexington Herald-Leader, February 28, 1985, page B-2, columns 3-4.

[11] Lexington Herald-Leader, October 23, 1985, page A-1, column 1 and A-10, December 10, 1985, page C-1, column 1 and February 13, 1986, page B-1, columns 1-5.

[12] Lexington Herald-Leader, September 26, 1995, page C10, columns 1-2.

[13] Memo from Vicki Robertson, dated July 11, 1986 (copy in Kentucky Room).

[14] Lexington Herald-Leader, March 8, 1988, page B-3, column 1.

[15] Lexington Herald-Leader, March 8, 1988, page B-1, column 1, April 16, 1988, page B-1, columns 2-3, April 21, 1988, page B-1, columns 2-4 and B-3 and April 27, 1988, page B-1, columns 2-6 and B-8.

[16] Lexington Herald-Leader, June 23,1989, page A-1, columns 5-7.

[17] Library Timeline.

[18] Library Timeline.

[19] Lexington Herald-Leader, December 19, 1997, page B1, columns 506 and B4.

[20] Lexington Herald-Leader, February 20, 1998, page A1, column 5 and A8.

[21] Library Timeline.

[xxii] Lexington Herald-Leader, June 5, 2006, page B1, columns 2-4 and June 17, 2007, page B1, columns 3-5.


William M. Ambrose, Lexington Public Library - Founded 1795 / Free 1898, Limestone Press, Lexington, 2012.

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