Hancock County Library releases 120 years of history

GREENFIELD — The Hancock County Public Library has put together an illustrated volume of its 120-year history (cover pictured), co-written by county historian Joe Skvarenina and librarian Paul McNeil and researched by librarian Cindi Faunce.

It’s the story of many roadblocks and battles endured and won by volunteers, residents and politicians for a library system that now serves everyone in Hancock County.

In 1878, WH Simms, superintendent of schools, organized the first library in Greenfield. Students went door to door asking for spare books to fill a room at the high school. The room wasn’t open to the public until 20 years later with Minnie Hughes as the first librarian.

Then, in 1906, the assistant librarian, Vernie Baldwin, began corresponding with industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who donated $10,000 to build a free-standing library in Greenfield. That structure still stands on North Street, occupied by Carnegie’s restaurant.

The library has grown and changed locations twice since then; but before 1999, anyone not living in the library’s service area paid a hefty annual fee to use its resources. Most families in the county had no access. One of the primary issues blocking county-wide service was the reluctance of politicians to impose higher property taxes on farmers and senior citizens.

Finally, after years of county residents requesting library service, Indiana Sen. Beverly Gard began writing Senate Bill 166, legislation unique to Hancock County and its use of the County Economic Development Income Tax. It would support a library with no undue burden on property owners. Hancock County commissioner Armin Apple presented the original idea, and Indiana Rep. Bob Cherry sponsored it in the house.

In the past 15 years, the Greenfield library has grown from serving a population of 12,000 to serving a county-wide population of 40,000. Checkouts, including digital media, have exceeded a million annually for the last three years.

Read the complete story of determined people who worked for years toward sharing resources with their neighbors. Copies of “120 Year History of the Hancock County Public Library” are available at the library’s information desk for $10, with proceeds supporting the Friends of the Library.