Lexington Public Library (1945 to 1991)

Following the Second World War, the population of Lexington and Fayette County doubled within the next decade and a half.  With fixed city limits, the bulk of this grown occurred in the county.  It was not until the early 1960s, that the City of Lexington expanded the city limits north along Paris Pike, east along Richmond Road and south along Tates Creek Road.

Kentucky Library Code:

The Kentucky Library Code required that by July 1944, the cities of certain sizes created a public library and to appropriate “not less than five cents nor more than 15 cents on each $100 worth of property assessed for local taxation.”  In addition, newly appointed librarians were required to be certified, with at least a bachelor degree.

The projected revenue from this law was estimated to be around $28,500 per year.  The prior year a total of $12,500 was received from city, including one-half of the police court fines, and $1,000 from the Fiscal Court of the county.

In June 1944, Lexington Mayor R. Mack Oldham appointed a new board for the library to comply with the new Kentucky Library Code.  He appointed Charles N. Manning, Samuel M. Wilson, William H. Townsend, Angeline C. Stoll and Dorothy Miles.  All except Miles, were members of the old board of trustees.  Miles replaced Minnie P. Bullock, who was forced to step down because her sister-in-law Sallie Bullock Cave was assistant librarian.[i]

During 1946, Carrie L. Hunt was replaced by Virginia Hayes as Librarian.  She is a certified trained librarian.[ii]

In 1947, William H. Townsend was elected chairman of the board (after the death of Charles N. Manning) and Dr. Jesse Herrmann was appointed to the board and elected treasurer (after the death of Samuel M. Wilson).  The other directors were Elizabeth D. McDonald (secretary), Betsy W. Estes and Dr. Raymond F. McLain.[iii]

Kentucky Room:

Around 1949, the library created the Kentucky Room, in the Carnegie Library, to consolidate and expand the collection of historical works on Lexington and Kentucky.  The library’s collection held a number of rare books, manuscripts and artifacts from the earliest days of the library and Lexington, including the only original copies of the Kentucky Gazette from the 1780s to 1830s.  The library also owned the three volume American edition of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.  This edition was an “elephant sized” folio with 150 rare prints of birds drawn by John James Audubon.  These items were kept in a fireproof value in the basement of the library.[iv]

The centerpiece of this collection was the Local History Index, started by Charles R. Staples and a number of volunteers at this time.  The Index was of the Lexington newspapers, starting with the Kentucky Gazette, Lexington Observer & Reporter, Lexington Leader and Lexington Herald.  These papers had just been converted into microfilm by the University of Kentucky.  The library purchased its first microfilm reader for the Kentucky Room.[v]

Kentucky Room, circa 1940s   <LPL>

Library Stacks, circa 1940s   <LPL>

Laura Carroll Branch   <LPL>

On June 17, 1949, the Laura Carroll Branch opened to serve the black community.  The branch is located at 572 Georgetown Street, at the corner with Ash Street.  The collection in the Colored Reading Room, at the Main Library, is relocated to the new branch.  The branch was open from 2:30 to 9:00 pm each week day.  During 1951, the library was desegregated and the branch closed.[vi]

New Bookmobile, 1951   <LPL>

Bookmobile Service:

During September 1951, the library established bookmobile service to reach patrons by scheduled stops in neighborhoods.  This was the first mobile library in Kentucky that served a city, not a rural county.  The bookmobile was stocked with 2,000 books, including fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.  The schedule of stops:

Monday – Charlotte Court, Odd Fellows Home, Florence Crittenton Home and Manchester Street.

Tuesday – Pleasant Green Church (Maxwell and Patterson neighborhoods), Cheapside and Ashland neighborhood.

Wednesday – Conn Terrace (South Limestone), Clifton and Woodland neighborhood.

Thursday – Aspendale Park, Blue Grass Park and Castlewood Park.

Friday – Euclid and Ashland neighborhood (East High Street).

The driver was Paul Markwell and librarian was Emily H. Dawson.[vii]

County Appropriation:

In 1902, the Fayette County Fiscal Court approved an annual appropriation of $1,000 for the operation of the Lexington Public Library.  With this appropriation, library service was extended to residents of the county.  During the late 1920s, this amount was increased to $1,200 per year, before being reduced back to $1,000 during the depression.  In 1950, the city contribution was $41,357.98 for the library, while the county contribution remained at $1,000.  There were 12,157 library card holders, of which 8,379 (69%) lived in the city and 3,778 (31%) in the county.[viii]

By 1953, the number of library users increased slightly to 13,053, but the proportion of city and county cardholders changed to 7,440 (57%) and 5,613 (43%).  Of the annual budget of $46,622.24, the county supplied only $1,000 or 2 percent.[ix]

In October 1953, the Board of Trustees consisted of William H. Townsend (Chairman), former Mayor Thomas G. Mooney, Dr. Herman L. Donovan, Betsy W. Estes and Catherine L. Scott.  Mooney replaced Dr. Jesse Herrmann, who died in October 1953.[x]

In March 1953, William H. Townsend and Thomas G. Mooney requested that the county fiscal court increase its appropriation to $10,000 per year.  This was in part to cover a new bookmobile for the county, which was to be donated to the library by a local tobacco company.  Townsend pointed out that the cost of the bookmobile was $5,880 ($2,400 salary, $480 operations and $3,880 new books).  However, the fiscal court indicated that they had budget problems.  Townsend pointed out that this was the same answer he received 25 years earlier.  He further stated that “when the bookmobile is given, your maybe you’d better ask for sufficient gasoline to drive it to Jessamine county or further south.”[xi]

During October 1954, the County Court finally appropriated $1,500 for the first six months of 1955.  In January 1955, the new bookmobile was placed in service for county patrons.  Over the next few years, the Fiscal Court slowly increased its appropriation to $5,000.[xii]

In September 1961, the board again attempted to get the county contribution increased to a higher level to support the library usage of county residents.  The next month, the Fiscal Court denied this request.  In December 1961, the board resolved that “only residents of the city of Lexington will be permitted to use the Lexington Public Library after June 30, unless the Fayette Fiscal Court agrees to double its appropriation to the institution.”  The Fiscal Court finally agreed to increase its annual contribution to $10,000 for the next year.[xiii]

Crane installing air conditioning unit, 1965   <LPL>

In December 1964, the library began a major renovation of the Carnegie library, including installing new ceilings, updating light fixtures and painting.  In addition, an external fire escape was added to the second floor and central air conditioning was installed.  The improvements were designed by Warfield Gratz and Robert Pinkerton. The renovation cost $60,517, funded $45,131 from Federal library grants and $15,386 from the “library trust fund.”[xiv]

Budget Crisis:

In 1965, the legislature passed an act requiring that all assessed values, which were undervalued statewide, be based upon market value.  The act included a rollback provision that adjusted tax rates so that gross revenues did not increase.  Under this provision, the city reduced the library’s appropriation, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1966, from 5 cents to 2.1 cents per $100 assessed value of real estate.  The difference was absorbed into the city’s budget.  To keep the library open, the library sold a number of rare books, original Audubon prints and other items donated to the library over the past 170 years.

In 1968, Virginia Hayes retired and Mary Powell Phelps was appointed Head Librarian.[xv]

In October 1968, the Library’s board filed suit against the city of Lexington to force the reinstatement of the 1944 statutory funding of 5 cents per $100 assessed value.  The directors were Dr. Irvin Lunger (Chairman), Fannie H. Miller, Walter Brown, W. Van Meter Alford, James S. Carroll, Ruth G. Gaitskill and Elizabeth N. Fugazzi.[xvi]

Friends of the Lexington Public Library:

On January 17, 1969, the Friends of the Lexington Public Library was incorporated as a non-profit by Dr. Holman Hamilton, Edward Houlihan and Patricia G. Morris.  The purpose of the Friends was

To intensify community awareness and use of the library,

To aid in informing the community about the library’s problems,

To foster programs designed to add to the cultural life of the community,

To work for library appropriations and legislation,

To encourage gifts, endowment and memorials for the library.

The first officers were Hamilton president, Mrs. James Rich vice president, Houlihan vice president, Forrest E. Hansen treasurer and Morris secretary.[xvii]

During 1969, Dr. Irvin Lunger, chairman of the library’s board, requested an increase in the library’s budget, of $95,000 (from $154,975 to $249,975).  However, City Commissioners Tom Underwood[1], Ray Boggs and Paul Fowler opposed any increase.  On March 19, 1970, the City Commissioners approved an appropriation of only $166,610.  With the proposed budget, Lunger indicated “that such inadequate financing would necessitate discontinuing bookmobile service, closing the library on Saturdays and Sundays, and greatly reducing book purchases.”  The cutbacks were implemented on April 1st.[xviii]

In April 1970, the Underwood faction introduced a resolution to remove Lunger, Fugazzi, Gaitskill, Carr and Alford from their positions on the Board of Trustees.  However, Mayor Charles Wylie indicated that he would just reappoint them.[xix]

In May 1970, Circuit Judge Armand Angelucci ruled that in favor of the library and issued an order that “the statutory requirement is mandatory, it must be observed.”  The city appealed this decision based upon the claim that there was never an “independent library district” formed for Lexington and the only obligations was the $6,000 due under the 1902 Carnegie ordinance.[xx]

On June 4, 1970, the city began withholding funding for the library while pending their appeal of the judge’s ruling.[xxi]

In June 1970, the library was forced to compromise with a $206,000 appropriation, which represented 2.6 cents per assessed property value.  The city also agreed to increase the appropriations[2] over the next few years.  The settlement also required the library to submit a proposed annual budget, audited financial statements and open its books for inspection and audit by the city.  Commissioner Underwood wrote a self-serving notice, which he required the library[3] have printed.  This notice read:

“Commissioners Underwood, Boggs and Fowler have been most cooperative and interested in working with the Board in negotiating an agreement which provides not only a temporary, but a long range solution to this problem.”[xxii]

On July 7, 1970, the city finally released the funds from escrow and transferred $53,119.08 to the library’s account.[xxiii]

Long Range Planning:

During January 1969, the Board of Trustees approved a long range plan for the library.  The plan envisioned a new main library located in the proposed Civil Center and four branch libraries.  The plan also specified that the operating budget be increased to $750,000 by 1980.  This increase was to be generated from either a county library tax or reinstatement of the 5 cents.  The library’s appropriation was primarily from the city, with only $45,000 contributed from the county.  However, the proportion of library cards was 55 percent from the city and 45 percent from the county.

Children’s Room, circa 1970s   <LPL>

Southland Branch:

In October 1972, the Southland Branch was established in a rented store front in Southland Shopping Center.

1975 Long Range Plan:

In 1975, the library board prepared a five year plan on facilities.  This plan specified:

1975/76 - finish construction of the Lansdowne Branch (budget $353,000), renovate the Main Library (budget $115,150) and upgrade the Second Street YMCA branch[4] (budget $15,000).

1976/77 - establish two store front branches in the Northside and Gardenside areas.  The proposed operating and capital budgets were $80,000 and $94,000, respectively, for both.

1977/78 - begin construction on permanent branches in the Northside and Gardenside areas.  The capital budget for each was $460,000.  In addition, a store front branch was to be opened on Richmond Road (capital budget $38,000 and operating budget $35,000).

1978/79 - establish a store front branch in the Georgetown Street area (capital budget $90,000).  In addition, additional operating expenses of $140,000 was budgeted (Northside $50,000, Gardenside $50,000 and Georgetown Street $40,000).

1979/80 - purchase an existing downtown building and remodel or build a new 20,000 square foot main library in the downtown area.  The first option included an estimate of $580,000 and the second of $1,110,000.[xxiv]

Lansdowne Branch:

On August 18, 1975, ground was formally broken by Mayor H. Foster Pettit for a branch[5] in the Lansbrook/Lansdowne area.  The city had recently annexed the Tate Creek corridor into the city limits and the area was the fastest growing part of the city.  In addition, the area had the highest bookmobile usage in the city.  The site was donated by the city (the site of an old sewer pumping station).  The branch was designed by McLoney & Associates, with 6,500 square feet.  The construction budget was $265,000, funded partly by a $75,000 revenue sharing grant.  The branch was opened on August 9, 1976. [xxv]

On June 30, 1977, Mary Powell Phelps retired and Ronald P. Steensland was appointed Library Director the next day.[xxvi]

In March 1979, the Eastland Branch opened in Eastland Shopping Center.  In June 1985, the Southland Branch was relocated to Holwyn Drive and renamed Southside Branch.[xxvii]


[1] The Underwood faction controlled three of five votes on the city commission and “ruled” the city from 1968 to 1972.

[2] 2.7 cents in 1971, 2.8 cents in 1972, 2.9 cents in 1973 and 3.0 in 1974 and after per $100 assessed property in the city.

[3] The advertisement cost $400, which was paid by the Friends of the Lexington Public Library.

[4] During 1972, a branch library was operated at the Second Street YMCA, located in the old St. Joseph Hospital at 535 West Second Street.  The branch was primarily a children’s library, organized by the Council of Jewish Women.

[5] The branch was formally named the Josephine Staples Emrath Memorial Library, after the Chairman of the Board of Trustees during its construction.


[i] Lexington Herald, July 20, 1944, page 3, column 1.

[ii] Lexington Herald, March 17, 1946, page 1, column 6.

[iii] Lexington Herald, January 29, 1947, page 14, column 4 and January 28, 1949, page 14, column 8.

[iv] Lexington Herald Leader, January 14, 1951, page 78 and Lexington Leader, October 3, 1951, page 9, columns 1-2.

[v] Lexington Leader, May 26, 1950, page 14, columns 4-5 and Lexington Herald Leader, January 11, 1953, page H-9, columns 1-3.

[vi] Lexington Herald, June 2, 1949, page 1, columns 2-3 and June 19, 1949, page 28, column 2.

[vii] Lexington Herald Leader, September 9, 1951, page 1, columns 6-7 and Lexington Leader, September 14, 1951, page 1, columns 1-3, September 14, 1951, page 10, columns 1-2 and September 17, 1951, page 4, column 1.

[viii] Lexington Leader, April 12, 1951, page 10, column 6.

[ix] Lexington Leader, October 5, 1953, page 10, column 2.

[x] Lexington Leader, October 5, 1953, page 10, column 2.

[xi] Lexington Herald, March 24, 1954, page 1, column 1 and March 27, 1954, page 1, column 4.

[xii] Lexington Herald, October 23, 1954, page 1, column 8, May 4, 1957, page 1, column 8 and May 15, 1958, page 1, column 7 and Lexington Leader, January 25, 1955, page 3, column 4.

[xiii] Lexington Herald, September 6, 1961, page 22, column 3, October 25, 1961, page 1, column 2, December 16, 1961, page 1, column 4, December 20, 1961, page 1, column 3 and June 2, 1962, page 1, column 5.

[xiv] Lexington Herald, December 19, 1964, page 1, column 6.

[xv] Lexington Herald, September 9, 1967, page 16, column 4 and hand written notes in Kentucky Room.

[xvi] Lexington Herald, October 17, 1968, page 10, column 4.

[xvii] Lexington Herald, December 8, 1968, page 3, column 1, December 13, 1968, page 1, column 5 and January 18, 1969, page 15, column 6.

[xviii] Lexington Herald, June 23, 1970, page 1 and Wright, page 209.

[xix] Lexington Leader, April 8, 1970, page 1 and April 9, 1970, page 3 and May 1, 1970, page 1.

[xx] Lexington Leader, April 22, 1970, page 1 and Lexington Herald, April 23, 1970, page 1, columns 3-5 and April 24, 1970, page 1.

[xxi] Lexington Leader, June 3, 1970, page 1, Lexington Herald, June 4, 1970, page 1 and Louisville Courier Journal, June 4, 1970.

[xxii] Wright, page 209.

[xxiii] Lexington Leader, August 25, 1970, page 17, column 1-2.

[xxiv] Copy of “Development Plan for Lexington Public Library,” copy in Kentucky Room.

[xxv] Hand written notes in Kentucky Room.

[xxvi] Hand written notes in Kentucky Room.

[xxvii] Library Timeline.

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

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