A Brief History of HPL
Complied by Carol Williams, Hammond Librarian and Resident
Libraries and their communities have a symbiotic relationship. As a community grows and prospers, so does its library, and so do its residents. When a community experiences a decline, the library can sustain services for as long as possible, but prolonged downturns eventually influence a library’s funding and ability to provide services. With this being said, it is only fitting that in order to understand the history of the Hammond Public Library, you also have to understand what was happening in Hammond through the years.
EARLY DAYS OF HAMMOND
The northwest Indiana region had many settlers that passed through or stayed briefly on their way further west. But he first permanent settlers in what would become Hammond were Ernst Hohmann and his wife Caroline Sibley Hohmann. The Hohmanns immigrated from Europe, Ernest from Prussia and Caroline from England. They made their way to New York, then onto Chicago where Ernst had set up a tailor shop. A cholera epidemic drove the Hohmanns away from the city. They purchased property along the north bank of the Grand Calumet River in 1851. The Hohman Inn was built at what we now know as Hohman Avenue. They also owned the toll bridge crossing the river which anyone coming from the south would have had to cross on their way to Chicago. The Hohmanns became very prosperous and prominent citizens.
A few years pass and others looking for a place to settle and make their fortunes begin to buy land in the area surrounding the Hohmanns. In 1869, the G.H. Hammond Company, owned by butchers George Hammond and Marcus Towle, banker Caleb Ives, and George Plummer, purchase land to build the State Line slaughterhouse on the south bank of the river along the Indiana/Illinois state border. It would employ hundreds of workers and by 1885 would process 3,000 head of cattle per week and own over 800 freight and refrigerated railcars to move its product in and out of the region. Unfortunately, in 1901 it would be devastated by fire, never to be rebuilt.
In 1873, a new post office building was being erected. Marcus Towle and Thomas Hammond, two of the most influential men in the area both wanted it named after their families. After much debate, they agreed on a coin toss to make the final decision. The post office and the surrounding community became known as Hammond.
On April 21, 1884, the City of Hammond was officially incorporated, and during the final two decades of the 19th century, the city experienced a huge period of growth and prosperity with commercial and industrial businesses making Hammond their home. And following that a residential building boom.
While trains may be an inconvenience today as we go about our daily routines, railroads in the late 1800s were predominant and a main reason why the region grew so quickly. From the counting of the first US Census in 1880 to 1900, Hammond’s population grew from 699 to 12,376—a 1,670% increase in twenty years! It was a hub of commercial activity as goods crossed the country. Passenger trains connecting local towns and running through downtown Hammond, quickly made Hammond the shopping center of Lake County. And when service from Hammond to Chicago at 63rd Street began, it made Hammond even more of an ideal spot for businesses looking for new locations. Big business found Hammond especially appealing because the land available for expansion and the easy access to both the rail lines and the Grand Calumet River as transportation avenues, would allow them to prosper.
The photo above was taken at Hammond’s Erie Railroad yards in 1908. The main Erie tracks ran from Chicago to New York.
The photo below was taken in 1890 at the Gibson yards. At the time, this was the largest railroad switching station in the world. The inset portion in the upper left corner shows the men at the switches.
Some types of businesses that settled in and helped create Hammond include the horse track at Roby, a post office, a grocery store, a bakery, a lumber yard and other major commercial investments, including its own weekly newspaper.
On April 21, 1884, The City of Hammond is incorporated. And as the end of the century approaches, the new city expands. Land is purchased to create Central Park, Hammond’s first recreational spot, Oak Hill Cemetery is founded and Hammond becomes the headquarters of the largest publisher in the world—W.B. Conkey Printing and Bookbinding Company.
W.B. Conkey printed the Sears, Roebuck & Company catalogs and the Encyclopedia Britannica, along with hundreds of other titles.
The need for expansion will have Hammond annexing the Roby and Robertsdale areas. These sections will become part of Hammond, but will retain their neighborhood references.
The growth and prosperity in Hammond leads Hammond’s upper class wanting enlightenment and social activity. The Shakespeare Club is created and members read and discuss literary works at social gatherings. After a short time, the group had grown to the point where members decide that they needed to go a step further. In 1902, the Hammond Public Library is founded and a Board of Trustees is established. It had a small collection of 300 books and 100 members, but would quickly outgrow is little home-sponsored library corner.
In 1904, the library is given space at the Chicago Telephone Building on Rimbach Street in Downtown Hammond and Miss Marie Hansen is hired as the library’s first librarian. Later that year, Trustees discuss Mr. Andrew Carnegie, and his philanthropic donations that are funding libraries all over the nation. Feeling like they had nothing to lose, trustees apply for a Carnegie Grant to build their first library building.
CARNEGIE AND HIS GRANTS
Andrew Carnegie was a self-made millionaire who came to the U.S. a Scottish immigrant at the age of 13 and immediately went to work. As opportunities presented themselves, Carnegie took advantage, and soon found himself a job with a railroad as a telegraph operator. As he worked his way up, Carnegie began investing his earnings in railroads, oil and steel. When oil paid him big dividends, he heavily invested in the steel industry. In 1901, Carnegie Steel Company was sold and would later become U.S. Steel. The sale of Carnegie Steel made Andrew Carnegie the richest man in America. By this point, Carnegie had already been donating large amounts of money to worthy causes, but after the sale, at the age of 66, Carnegie dedicated himself full-time to philanthropy. Public libraries were one of his passions.
Through his grants, Carnegie gave away more than $41 million in 46 states. Indiana was only 5th in the nation when it came to actual dollars distributed by the Carnegie Foundation, but it ranked 1st in the number of communities served and the number of buildings constructed with Carnegie funds. Hammond was lucky enough to receive 2 grants. The first was $25,000 to build the library’s first building, and the second that followed shortly after was for $2,500 for materials. The only promise Carnegie asked in return was that the city would continue to support the library through municipal funds.
HAMMOND’S CARNEGIE LIBRARY
The city’s new library building at 5011 Hohman Avenue was located on city-owned land in Central Park. It was built with Ohio Sandstone direct from Amherst, Ohio. It had two floors and a full basement. When it opened, it housed more than 3,000 books and 1,100 people had library cards.
As the second decade of the new century began, Hammond’s population once again had a dramatic increase. At 20,925, it had risen 69.1% since the last Census. Industry in Hammond continued to grow and it attracted the masses. As the population grew and the demand for land increased, Hammond began expanding its borders. In 1911, the Hammond City Council voted to annex the areas of Hessville, Saxony, and Gibson, which were south and west of the established Hammond city limits. Twelve years of opposition followed, but in the end these neighborhoods became part of Hammond. The Hessville neighborhood to this day upholds a strong sense of community and pride of its early beginnings.
1911 Also saw the Library open its first branch. It was in the far north neighborhood of Hammond, adjacent to Lake Michigan. It was and still is known as Robertsdale. Branch #1 first opened on Indianapolis Blvd in rented space about the fire station. It would have to move to West Park School, then again to 119th and Superior where it would remain until 1931 and a library owned building was built.
A second branch was opened within Industrial High School (which would later change its name to Hammond High School) for ten years before moving down the street to the basement of a Christian Church.
Brooks House Branch was the 3rd branch to open, at 1047 Conkey Street inside Brooks House.
In the 1920’s Hammond continues to prosper, it’s new population rises 72.1 % to 36,004. Hammond gets it very own radio station in town, WWAE. And to meet the needs of the growing population, the Library purchases its first property and builds the Keeler Branch at Oak Avenue and Hoffman Street in 1924.
A few years later in 1927, the Hansen Branch opens in rented space at Kennedy Avenue and 15th Street. It will remain at this location for four years before moving to its permanent home.
1929 marked the start of the Great Depression in the United States, but Hammond wouldn’t feel it just yet. In 1930 Hammond’s population jumps another 82% to 65,559. The Paramount Theater in Downtown Hammond and the purchase of land at Five Points in Robertsdale by Lever Brothers start out the decade, but as the Depression finally hits Hammond, economic growth slows. The Calumet Branch of the library once again had to move, this time into space provided by the State Bank of Hammond. It will remain in that building until 1953.
In 1930, EVERY SINGLE BANK in the city begins to fail. Hammond becomes the largest city in the United States without a functioning bank. In 1931, the City of Hammond is bankrupt.
Also in 1931, the Hammond Public Library finishes the building of three new branches on library owned property. Branch #1 in Robertsdale finds its permanent home at 847 – 117th Street and is renamed the Rupp Branch (photo below).
The Hansen branch also moves out of rented space and finds its final home at 2823 Martha Street (below).
And the third building opens as the Sawyer Branch at 649 Mulberry Street (below).
A year later, in 1932, Hammond becomes the largest city in the nation without a functioning bank. This attracts the attention of Mercantile Bank, which comes to town and opens for business. This signals the beginning of the city’s recovery from the Great Depression. That same year, the Goldblatt Brothers purchase what was the Lion Store in Downtown Hammond and rename it Goldblatt’s.
In 1933, Joseph Meyer, who several years earlier had started a mail-order herbal company from his home, has grown his business to the point that he opens the Calumet State Bank to help manage his profits.
Lever Brothers in 1934 completes its soap making factory at Five Points in Robertsdale. The factory still stands and is in use today as Unilever.
By mid-decade, Hammond has recovered economically. A new City Hall is built at Calumet Avenue and Highland Street, across from Hammond High School. The Nine Span Bridge is erected, which is the longest bridge in the country over dry land. It carries traffic on Indianapolis Boulevard over the Gibson rail yards. The city builds the Hammond Civic Center and as the decade ends, the Hammond Tech High School Boys Basketball Team brings home the Indiana State Championship in 1939.
Hammond’s population rises slightly to 70,183 as the 1940s begin. Hammond’s radio station changes owners and its call letters to WJOB, as they remain to this day. The U.S. joins World War II.
The Library opens the Harrison Park Branch in basement space provided by the Hammond Board of Education in 1943, where it will remain until 1965. During this same time, library trustees begin talk of building a new main library building. They will consider many different Hammond locations over the next 20 years.
After the ending of the war, Hammond experiences another building boom and construction becomes Hammond’s major industry. Also, war-related technology training in the area leads to the establishment of the Purdue University Calumet Campus. Rand McNally purchases the W.B. Conkey Company, and construction begins on the Hammond portion of the Tri-State Expressway connecting Chicago to Detroit.
Marie Hansen-Easter, the city’s first librarian, becomes the first person to retire under Indiana’s PERF program (Public Employee’s Retirement Fund).
Hammond’s population again increases, this time over 24% to 87,595. During the 1950s, construction begins on the Purdue Calumet campus at 169th Street and Hammond’s first suburban shopping mall, Woodmar Shopping Center, opens at 165th Street and Indianapolis Boulevard. NIPSCO builds its corporate headquarters in Downtown Hammond and the city purchases property in Robertsdale and opens Wolf Lake Park to the public.
The Library experiences its first closure, as the Calumet Branch loses its space in the bank building. It will not reopen at another location. But a year later in 1954, Hammond begins a partnership with the School City of Hammond and will open five elementary school branch libraries over a two-year span. They are:
• Wilson at 1317 – 173rd Street
• Riley at 1245 River Drive
• Lincoln at 4221 Towle Avenue
• Jefferson at 6940 Northcote Avenue
• Lafayette at 5512 Maywood Avenue
These branches would be available to the students from inside the buildings during the school day. All the libraries had outside access doors so that the public could make use of them. It would also allow the libraries to remain open after the schools had closed for the day.
Hammond’s population reaches its zenith in 1960, when it tops at 111,698. The Hammond Historical Society (HHS) is formed to preserve Hammond’s heritage. The library and the HHS will through the years, become partners in preserving Hammond’s history.
The Harrison Park Branch loses its space in the basement of the School Board building in 1965 and moves into its own rented building at 436 Conkey Street.
The Library purchases land in the Hessville neighborhood adjacent to Morton High School. In 1966, the Howard Branch library opens to the public (below). This is also the point in the library’s history when it has the largest footprint in the city. The Howard Branch becomes the 12th library location open in the city.
The same year, the Library is informed that the property of Central Park where the library sits will be a part of the newly planned Turner Park Project and the library will have to find a new main location. The library purchases the old State Street Theater property on State Street, a few blocks east of Hohman Avenue. The old theater is torn down and construction begins. Because the new location is only blocks away from Lafayette Elementary School, the Lafayette Branch closes before the new school year begins and the school reclaims the space.
As the calendar turns over to 1967, Hammond and the region are hit with a record-breaking 26” of snowfall that paralyzes the city. Later that year, the famous Danceland at Five Points in Robertsdale burns down and is never rebuilt. The Parthenon Theatre begins hosting music concerts. Sonny and Cher are the first in 1967. Later in 1974, a little known Canadian band named Rush, will open for the main act, KISS. This concert was one of the rare early ones that was caught on film and KISS fans today can find the uncovered recordings if they search on the internet.
In the fall of 1967, the construction is complete on the new main library at 564 State Street (below).
As the new decade begins, Hammond experiences its first population decline in its history. Though it may be slight, a 3% decrease to 107,983 is felt. Also in decline during the decade are the city’s industrial businesses. Hammond loses big employers like Borden Dairy, the Erie Railroad, American Steel, Youngstown Steel, Allied Structural Steel, and Ashland Oil.
In 1979, the Library loses another branch as the Brooks House closes and the library has nowhere to relocate the branch.
The 1980s were no easier on the city or the library. The population decreased again, this time nearly 15% to 91,985. The Parthenon Theater closes as does the Wonder Bread operations plant. The Pullman-Standard plant closes, along with Taylor Chain, the Rand McNally printing plant on Conkey Street, and the beloved Goldblatt’s department store in Downtown Hammond.
The 80s are tough on the Library too. The Keeler Branch on Oak Avenue closes and the property is sold. Lincoln School undergoes renovations and the library has to leave the property. Luckily, the Lincoln Branch is able to relocate a few blocks away to a small storefront at 3833 Hohman Avenue. But during the second half of the decade, the Riley and Jefferson Branches aren’t so lucky. They lose their space at the schools but aren’t able to find new locations. The Wilson School Branch closes, but does so because the Library purchases adjacent property and builds the Hayward Branch at 172nd Street and Columbia Avenue (below).
Hammond population declines for the 3rd consecutive decade according to the U.S. Census. 1990 begins with 84,236 residents. The city makes efforts to attract new businesses to town. The Hammond Port Authority opens the Hammond Marina in Robertsdale along the Lake Michigan shore in 1991. The Empress Casino becomes part of Hammond in 1996 and it will be rebranded as the Horseshoe Casino later in 2001. The Challenger Learning Center opens on the property of Purdue Calumet in 1999 and students from all over the country visit to participate in simulated space missions. The Indiana Welcome Center opens in Hammond on Kennedy Avenue at I-80/94.
The Library is again forced to close branches. Harrison Park is closed in 1990 at the beginning of the decade, and towards the end, four neighborhoods lose their branches. In 1998, the Hansen, Sawyer, Lincoln and Rupp Branches close. The Library’s main building and two branches remain.
The population of Hammond continues to decrease, but efforts around the city show new life emerging. In 2003, the Towle Theater returns live theater performances to Hammond. That same year, the Hammond Port Authority opens Lost Marsh Golf Course to the public on reclaimed land at Calumet Avenue between 129th Street and Lake George. Purdue University Calumet opens its first residential dormitory. Cabela’s comes to Hammond in 2007 with its first Indiana store. It locates on Indianapolis Boulevard at I-80/94 on the site of the former Woodmar Country Club. Its footprint is the size of three football fields. In 2009, Hammond turns 125 years old and the city celebrates with festivities all over town during the year.
The Hammond Public Library, reinforcing its commitment to the city and its roots in Downtown Hammond, chooses to renovate the main building at 564 State Street rather than abandon the site and move to another location. Renovations are completed in 2002 (below), in coordination with the Library’s 100-year anniversary.
Hammond’s population may decrease to 80,830, but Hammond has the highest population in Lake County. The Pavilion at Wolf Lake Memorial Park opens and can accommodate crowds of 15,000. The first charter school opens in Hammond the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology—HAST. And while the original historical Nine Span Bridge has to be torn down because of structural integrity, the bridge is rebuilt and open to traffic in less than one year.
The Library, faced with the declining population of Hammond, just as the city municipalities have, has slowly had its budget decreased and in 2011 had no alternative but to close its two remaining branches in November of that year. All materials and services now originate out of the main building at 564 State Street.
Though the City of Hammond and the Hammond Public Library have weathered many storms through the last several decades, both are highly optimistic in the changes that have been made moving forward. Both are determined to see the city and the residents thrive as we move further into the 21st century.
These highlights of Hammond’s history are just that—highlights. They are not a complete history. For more detailed information, visit the Suzanne G. Long Local History Room on the second floor of the Hammond Public Library.
All photos are property of the Hammond Public Library and are part of the library’s historical collection.
For further reading:
Allman, F.E. (1969). The Hammond Public Library: A History. Hammond Public Library: Hammond, IN.
Bobinski, G. S. (1969). Carnegie Libraries: Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development. American Library Association: Chicago.
Hammond Historical Society. (1982). Chronological History of Hammond. Hammond Historical Society: Hamond, IN.
Trusty, L. (1990). Hammond: A Centennial Portrait. The Donning Company/Publishers: Norfolk, VA.
Hammond Public Library
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