The Elwood Daily Record published this editorial on December 12, 1898: “A PUBLIC LIBRARY: The effort on the part of a few of our citizens to open the way for the establishment of a public library is note worthy. They, themselves, have books in their homes for their own and their children’s benefit, but they remember that there are hundreds of young men and women in the city who have no means of culture and entertainment. It is for them that they take valuable time from business to devote to the work of opening a free library and reading room.
Those to whom the committee appeals for subscriptions should consider the gain to the elevating resources of the city, which such a place of resort would afford, before they refuse to contribute to it. Debasing deficiencies abound all over the city. Places of questionable repute assignment may while away his idle hours.
A free library and reading room provided with standard books and correct literature under the control of the city would furnish a place where young men who live in boarding houses and have no planned associations might pass an idle hour without risk to his person. Other cities smaller than Elwood and less able to bear the expence, have libraries in successful operation. Elwood is in the lead in a business way and it is time we began to come up with our sister cities in public enterprises situated to elevate and refine our cosmopolitan population.”
Among the many subscribers and contributors were most of the leading professional and business men of Elwood, a number of lodges and trade unions, Sunday School classes and the children of the public schools. Some of the earlier responses were from: George Haynes, W. S. James, Glass Workers Union #50, H. F. Willkie, Mrs. Henriette Willkie, D. G. Evans, W. T. Wiley, A. H. McKenzie, Mary E. Cox, Elks Lodge #368, K of P Lodge #166, S. F. Downs, Henry Jordan, Class No. 16 of the Methodist Sunday School represented by W. H. Evans, Carpenters Union represented by A. O. Briggs, Typographical Union represented by D. W. Underwood, T. F. Fitzgibbons, Dr. H. M. Brown, Allen B. Wilson, Dr. J. H. Millikan, Mrs. Mary Banfield, Dr. F. L. Saylor, Mrs. Anna Saylor, W. H. Jones, Tourist Club, D. S. Green, E. E. Green, James Hefferman, Frank Simmons, James Davis, Will Hupp, T. W. Miles, Ira Kidwell, J. D. Mason, W.G. Curtis, A. D. Moffett, F. M. Harbit, C. C. Henze, H. D. Seymour, David Kessler, Luther Douge, Women’s Club, G. V. Newcomer, James L. Peed, Jacob Loomis, C. M. Greenlee, J. A. Hunter, Mrs. John Rodefer, Phillip Hamm, T. F. Hamack, H. P. Nivison, W. H. Smith, Jr., Stoneman & Co., Charles Cox, Clerk’s Union and No. 16 Public Schools.
By January 10, 1899, sufficient funds having been obtained to insure fulfillment of the plan, a mass meeting was held in the Odd Fellows Hall and a temporary organization was chosen with F. N. Simmons as chairman and Mrs. Henriette Willkie as secretary. H. F. Willkie, a lawyer, was authorized to draft articles of incorporation and secure a charter. When the charter was obtained, a permanent board of fifteen directors was elected for one year on January 25, 1899, in the Odd Fellows Hall. They, in turn, on February 14, 1899, elected the following officers: A. H. McKenzie, president; W. H. Evans, vice-president; Mrs. Henriette Willkie, secretary; and W. S. James, treasurer.
They all immediately began the work of establishing the library. The Alexander library of 515 books plus the purchase of 635 new books was the foundation of the new library. On March 21, 1899 Mrs. Eva Gilmore was elected temporary librarian. The first rule made was: “Resolved that…all residents of Elwood and all members of the association be entitled to receive books on proper identification of a resident householder known to the librarian”. Mrs. F. L. (Anna) Saylor and Mrs. P. T. O’Brien began cataloguing and preparing the books for circulation. On May 3, 1899, with 1,150 books and 12 magazines, the library was opened to the public in a small room of the O’Brien building at 1414 Main Street. the building also housed the French Steam & Dye Works.
The library was turned over to the city in June 1899, and was supported by taxes levied by the city council. The first library report for the eight months of the year 1899 was given by T. F. Fitzgibbons, chairman of the library committee, and was published in the local newspaper. There were 956 readers, a book stock of 1,267 and circulation was at 10,315. The most popular fiction authors were: Mrs. Wister, Caroline Hentz, Rose N. Carey, E. P. Roe and George Sheldon. The most popular juvenile books were the Elsie, Henty, Alcott and Pansy books. They subscribed to 10 magazines, 3 daily and 3 weekly newspapers.
By spring of the year 1900, Elwood’s population had grown, tremendously, from a mere 400 in 1883 to just under 16,000. A new room was opened for the library in the newly built city hall. By fall that same year, the move was completed.
The board of directors, wanting to have a trained librarian, hired Miss Nellie Fatout, a graduate of DePauw University and the New York Library School. In August, 1901, she was appointed to succeed Mrs. Gilmore. Under her direction, the library began fulfilling the expectations of it founders and became an educational factor in the community. As patronage continued to increase, demands increased in proportion and they quickly outgrew their allotted space. Wise heads began to cast about for relief.