Eckhart Public Library

Library History

Mission Statement:

Eckhart Public Library serves our community by providing an environment and resources that foster lifelong learning and literacy.

How It Began

The earliest form of a library in Auburn was a rental service sent by a Chicago firm to the town druggist who served as a librarian. In 1906, a group of young ladies called the Thursday Evening Culture Club canvassed the city to raise the $307.90 needed by law to establish a public library. An upstairs room was rented for the 600 volumes and a library board was established. An appeal to Andrew Carnegie brought a commitment of $12,500 for a permanent library site and the contract was closed in 1909.

Charles Eckhart, owner of the Eckhart Buggy Company and magnate in the local automobile industry, offered to build a library on the condition that the Carnegie contract could be canceled. Carnegie withdrew and the library trustees turned the construction over to Mr. Eckhart who ultimately spent more than $40,000 on the building.

The cornerstone was laid on May 10, 1910, and the occasion was marked with music by the Auburn City Band and High School Chorus. The ceremony was highlighted by an address by Governor Thomas Marshall and the burial of a time capsule, including many historical documents.

Upon completion, the library was dedicated in January 1911.

Designer of Eckhart Public Library

Normand S. Patton was the architect whose work Charles Eckhart admired during a tour of new libraries in southern Indiana in 1907, specifically Linton, Indiana. Patton's partner at the time was Grant Miller, and the library board hired Patton & Miller to design the Auburn Free Public Library.

Patton was in his 50s at the time, a respected professional architect in Chicago. He was one of the original members of the Western Association of Architects and is identified as a member of the Craftsman School.

He designed many prominent buildings in Chicago (e.g., The Illinois Institute of Technology and the Chicago Academy of Science, 1893) as well as libraries and collegiate buildings (Beloit, Oberlin, Wheaton, Carleton) throughout the country. With regard to the library in Auburn, Mr. Miller was the day-to-day contact with Mr. Eckhart while Patton oversaw the work.

The Building

The building, which belongs within the Arts and Crafts architectural movement, rests on concrete foundations four feet wide. The exterior walls are of Bedford stone and salt glazed brick. The brick was artistically designed and laid in a solid wall 18 inches thick. The roof is green tile with wide, heavy overhangs. The former entrances to the first floor are made of marble and mosaic tile, and the stairway is made of iron. Marble baseboards are used throughout the building. The windows are stained glass of original designs. The building and grounds were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

Stained Glass Windows

Gustav S. Brand (1863 - 1944) designed the stained glass windowsattheEckhart Public Library. A native of Germany, Brand came to the U.S. in 1893. He became very well known as a muralist. His work is found in many theatres and public buildings. He was chairman of the prestigious Chicago Arts Commission in 1934. Brand had a somewhat contentious relationship with Mr. Eckhart, often promising delivery of the windows then failing to do so. In the end, it is assumed that Mr. Eckhart approved of the final work.

1996 Expansion

Morrison Kattman Meze, Inc. of Fort Wayne designed an addition, which would provide the library with a total of 15,440 square feet of space necessary to offer expanded educational and personal enrichment opportunities to the community. The expansion doubled the size of the original library, allowing for additional computer and technical equipment, a genealogy and local history area, a more contralized circulation desk, a young adult section, as well as efficient work spaces for staff and volunteers.

The Children's Department featured a programming area complete with a puppet stage. The addition of a children's computer room made this a popular area for young patrons.

On the main floor, the JHG Room was named in honor of Janelle H. Graber, library director, because of the part she played overseeing the expansion.

On the upper floor, the former assembly room was remodeled to house books. The Alice Close Community Room, overlooks the fountain and library park. Alice Willennar Close was the daughter of William H. Willennar.


Charles Eckhart

Charles Eckhart was born on February 24, 1841 in Germantown, Pennsylvania to John and Caroline Eckhardt. At age eight, he began to help his father spool yarn. He had a year and a half of schooling. At 16 years old, he was apprenticed to a wheelwright. Later at age 19, he set up a repair shop in Hilltown (Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In 1860, he enlisted in the 104th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in the Union Army and served until May 20, 1863 when he was discharged because of heart trouble. At that time he held the rant of 1st sergeant. He reenlisted later and remained in the service until six months after the Civil War. His signature, Eckhart, was continued for pensions after the war.

Upon his discharge from the Army, Charles came to Indiana to visit his uncle, George Eckhardt. During this time, he worked for the Studebaker Carriage Works. He married Barbara Ellen Ashelman on October 30, 1866. Barbara was the daughter of John Ulcry and Mary Everhart Ashelman. John helped layout the town site of Auburn in 1864.

Charles and Barbara moved to Pennsylvania in 1867, where their four children were born: Frank in Chester County, and Anna, Morris, and William in Montgomery County, all not far from Phoenixville.

In 1873, the family moved back to Indiana and lived in a brick house on a five-acre tract in Auburn where Charles established the Eckhart Carriage Company. It supplied the wholesale trade for a complete line of buggies and surries. Charles retired in 1893, leaving the business in the hands of his sons. Frank, the oldest son, assumed active management of the Eckhart Carriage Company. In 1902, the Auburn Automobile Company was formed as a family enterprise.

Charles's wife Barbara died on September 10, 1903. On October 18, 1904, Charles married Martha A. Hoffman, daughter of the Reverend J.H. and Margaret Hoffman. Charles was an ardent prohibitionist and ran for Governor of Indiana on the Prohibition Party ticket.

He gave the city of Auburn the Eckhart Public Library and a city park. He and his son Frank gave the city a completely equipped YMCA building. The October 6, 1915 issue of the Auburn Weekly Bee describes Charles as a, "humble, earnest, honest-workman, soldier, manufacturer, public-spirited citizen, philanthropist, Christian husband, father, and friend to everybody." Charles died on September 30, 1915 in Auburn, Indiana.

The Fountain

As a gift to Auburn, Charles Eckhart purchased the fountain circa 1912 from The J.L. Mott Iron Works of New York. It is reported that Mr. Eckhart paid up to $2,000.00 for the it. The ornamental fountain is nearly 19 feet tall with an octagon base pool (21'6" in diameter) and an upper level basin (5'8" in diameter). A sculpture representing two boys trying to gain procession of a duck sit at the top of the fountain. Water sprays from the duck's bill and continues to cascade into the lower basins through the goats' mouths, which surround the second and third basins.

In 1997, a restoration was done through a donation from The Willennar Foundation. The Venus Bronze Center for Conservation in Detroit took eight months to restore the fountain to its former beauty. The fountain is listed on the Smithsonian Register of Historic Statuary.

Niles Terrace

Auburn native, Jane K. Niles, donated $50,000 to Eckhart Public Library in memory of her parents, Frederick L. Niles and Wanda Marshall Niles. The money was used to build the terrace that now exists on the west side of the library. A plaque, bearing the Niles name, is set in the library wall adjacent to the terrace near the main entrance to the library. The terrace is often used for public performances. It is also an excellent raised viewpoint of the library park.

Frederick Niles was born in LaGrance, Indiana and lived there as a child. He served in the Spanish-American War. Wanda Marshall Niles was born in Rome City. The couple moved to Auburn after they were married. Frederick worked at the Auburn Rubber Company and was an active Mason. Wanda was active in the Eastern Star. Frederick and Wanda Niles were avid library patrons and good friends of former librarian Alice Weeks and her husband. Frederick Niles died on December 9, 1951 and Wanda Niles dies on August 26, 1977.

The Library Park

The library obtained land adjoining the west side of the library after Charles Eckhart Purchased it from the city of Auburn in 1910. Mr. Eckhart wanted to ensure that the library would be visually prominent. The city then allowed Eckhart to landscape the site. Next, Mr. Eckhart purchased a fountain in 1912, which became the centerpiece of the park (see above).

The board hired landscape architect Kevin McCrory of McCrory and Associates (now LandPlan Group) of Fort Wayne, Indiana to redesign the park during the expansion in 1997. This resulted in the library's main entrance being moved from the east side of the building to the west along with the addition of the Niles Terrace. A prime focus of the renovation became the relationship between the library's entrance and the park's fountain.

The original park was mostly grass, augmented with a few overgrown shrubs and trees. During the renovation, the fountain was encircled by a brick plaza, with new diagonal sidewalks learning to Van Buren Street. The brick-paving theme was carried through to the surrounds of the restored streetlights located around the library. McCrory stayed with "old time" plants in the landscaping around the park to give a sense of enclosure and privacy to those using the park. According to McCrory, the park is like a house. Within a house you have defined spaces. Within the park can be found several defined outdoor reading areas: the fountain, the butterfly gardens, and several quiet spaces toward the edges of the park. The library park Moon Garden, located in the southeast corner of the library park, is maintained year round by the Auburn Garden Club.


Sirleine Smith, library director 1975-1992, donated the sundial in memory of her husband, Harold William Smith.


In July 2011, the Auburn Garden Club donated an outdoor sculpture to be permanently exhibited in their Moon Garden. This area was previously referred to as the Butterfly Garden.

Willennar Foundation

William H. Willennar was born on October 10, 1875 near Pleasant Lake in Steuben County. Upon Graduating from Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan, he served as the official reporter for the DeKalb-Steuben Circuit Count. He briefly worked for the Auburn Automobile Company. In 1910, he and A.L. Murray organizaed the Double Fabric Tire Company, which later became the Auburn Rubber Company.

In 1924, Mr. Willennar joined a group of Auburn businessmen to purchase controlling interest in the Auburn State Bank. He served as bank president until 1942, when he was elected Chairman of the Board. He held that position until his death on September 2, 1961. Throughout his life, Mr. Willennar was interested in civic and charitable organizations in Auburn. He served on the board of directors of the former Souder Hospital and was key supporter of efforts to build DeKalb Memorial Hospital (now DeKalb Health). Mr. Willennar was also active in politics. He served as County Chairman of the Republican Party and was a GOP candidate for State Representative.

In 1964, after the settlement of his estate, a foundation bearing Mr. Willennar's name was established as provided in his will. In keeping with his wishes and under the guidance of his daughters, Aileen Willennar and Alice Willennar Close, the Willennar Foundation has contributed generously to the Auburn Community donating over five million dollars over the years to organizations ranging from Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum to the Auburn Community Band.

Willennar Genealogy Center

Eckhart Public Library has been one of the major beneficiaries of the Willennar Foundation's largesse. They helped make possible the expansion and renovation of the library in 1996 and the restoration of the fountain and park the following year. When it became evident more room was needed to house the library's growing genealogy and local history collections, the Foundation offered to help once again.

This state-of-the-art Genealogy Center, which opened in June of 2002, was paid for exclusively by the Willennar Foundation, and it proudly bears the name of the man who, years after his death, keeps giving to his community.

The garage at the Willennar Genealogy Center housed the Eckhart Mobile Outreach Services (EMOS) van. It was redesigned to become the Digitization Lab through gifts and grants. The van has since been moved to the garage at the Willennar Administrative Annex.

Willennar Administrative Annex

This structure was originally built between 1945 and 1950. It was known as the Webb Printing Company. The Webb family lived on the corner of South Jackson and 12th Street. They used the building behind their home for their printing business. Next, it was used as the Rotary International Hall. Then, Junior Achievement owned the facility. This building was also used for dog-training. After that, it was privately owned and used for storage.

In 2006, the Willennar Foundation donated the building to the library. The original plan was to use the building for library storage and to house the EMOS van. After intensive strategic planning, it was decided to enlarge the building by adding a second floor to include the Technical Service Department, which had been working in crowded quarters in the basement of the library. That basement underwent a redesign to expand the Children's Department. In 2008, the Annex opened with geothermal heating, natural light tunnels, flooring made from recyclable material, a reflective metal roof, a steel-framed exterior, and other sustainable materials. Also, some materials were repurposed from the old building. Funding came from the local government, library funds, and gifts.

Jonathan Moss, owner of Moss Construction Cost Management, lead the renovation. It was designed to be a green certified building. The Willennar Administrative Annex is the first commercial construction project in Auburn to Attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification. It is also among the first green buildings in the entire United States.

The Annex has a multifunctional purpose. Library materials are received, cataloged, processed, and repaired here. There is more space for the library's network systems to be stored, allowing adequate cooling. The Operations Manager and many other library staff members work from here. In addition, the Annex houses the library van, grounds equipment, and offers needed storage. Book donations are received at the Annex. The building also provides a wonderful spot for the Friends of the Library, Inc. to store items for their book sales, which are held in February, May, July, and October of each year.

The Third Place: A Teen Library

The lot on South Jackson Street was purchased from Lulu and Charles Prickett in 1932 for the building of the Christian Science Church. It was completed in 1940. The Georgian colonial edifice had a large auditorium, a reading room, a foyer, and a basement. The auditorium walls were French Ivory and the woodwork was oyster white. Green carpet was installed in the auditorium and reading room. The building was also equipped with a modern heating plant and all-automatic stoker. The reading room was set apart at the right of the main entrance and was equipped with tables and chairs.

Once the Christian Science Church ceased to exist, Virginia and Donald Hartman purchased the building for his daughter Lisa Smith, who was starting an interior design business. Lisa Smith shared the space with Heather Thomas who gave children's private and group art lessons in the building.

The building was purchased from the Hartmans by the William H. Willennar Foundation. Then, a philanthropic gift for renovations came from a generous family in the community which made teh teen library possible. With their help, Eckhart Public Library was able to turn this building into a space designed just for teenagers. With the aid of grants, charitable organizations, and fantastic volunteers, exciting thinks take place in this building.

The great teen library has a snack cafe, desktops, laptops, a public iPad as well as the entire teen collection. This includes video games, graphic novels, books, music, test preparation, manga, and more. Students of the age to attend grades 6-12 enjoy monthly activities such as art and cooking programs as well as a monthly game night. The Teen Advisory Board (TAB) helps with the planning of events like the annual Quidditch Tournament and film production.

Teens help with The Not-So-Secret Garden, where they plant, weed, and grow food that is used for cooking programs as well as shared with the community. The Auburn Garden Club has supported The Not-So-Secret Garden so that tools and seeds could be purchased.

The Children's Department

Whimsical murals are located in the Children's Department. DeDe Surfus was a high school student and employee of the library when she started the murals. There were finished by Dawn Ahrndt, who was a student and friend of Andrea VanHorne, local artist and instructor. Volunteer Barb Shaw painted the ocean and rainforest scenes in the Children's Department restrooms.

The Secret Garden

Upon the 1996 expansion, the former Children's Department became the Technical Services Department, where the library materials were processed. As time progressed, the need arose for an expanded Children's Department. To do so, they reclaimed their space and the Technical Services Department was moved to the Willennar Administrative Annex.

The charming design for this additional space was based on the children's novel The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. Children and parents enter through the Secret Garden door into an imaginative garden filled with full wall murals created by self- taught Pat Delagrange, local artist and previous owner of The Busy Brush with the help of her husband Merv. Pat did not discover her talent until her junior year at Leo High School. With her talent, she completed her artistically designed murals in less than two weeks. The murals are acrylic and done free-hand. Her other murals can be found at Wesley Park Apartments and Dayspring Community Church in Auburn as well as Willie's Cozy Nook on Dupont road and other various places in Angola, Warsaw, and Fort Wayne. "Inspiration as I go," is what Delagrange calls her free-hand style.

The donors for the Secret Garden are discretely written on random stones on the mural wall. The murals begin at the entrance, continuing into the program area and end in the craft room. The craft room is separate from the program room and features floor-to-ceiling storage cabinets.

The renovation includes a program area, craft room, staff office, and an updated library staff break room. This delightful area is used for storytimes, beginINbooks, Book Buddies, LEGOΠClub, and other special events. The renovation was completed in 2009.