The Early Bookmobiles of Indiana; Noblesville


The Commercial Car of Noblesville, IN.

By 1922, technically over 50% of the nation’s bookmobiles were in Indiana. That’s because of the nine that existed, five were in the Hoosier State; Plainfield, 1915; Gas City, 1917; Logansport, 1919; Noblesville, 1920; and Elkhart, 1921.

Noblesville’s was purchased at the behest of librarian Lulu Meisse. The Dodge Brothers Commercial Car cost approximately $1,500 to buy and retrofit. Working with two other women, Jeanette Williamson and Esther Heinzmann, the early bookmobile began running in the fall of 1920 and had 16 routes. The territory covered about 170 square miles, with routes that added up to almost 500 miles of unpaved roads of mud and ice (the Commercial Car was chosen in part because it earned a hardy reputation serving as ambulances during the Great War).

“Parnassus”, as the car was nicknamed, carried roughly 300 books on its exterior shelves and circulated between 100 to 150 titles per trip. The Dodge also had room inside for a few crates of reading material the librarians took to area schoolhouses. Otherwise the car visited mostly private residences, about 800 homes total. Initially the librarians stopped at every house they saw, finding out who wanted their services by simply knocking on the door salesman-style. Some weren’t interested, and a few even thought the entire venture a waste of their taxes. (Meisse described the reaction of two men in the town of Aroma; “They shook their heads and bemoaned the great expense of this service, telling each other how needless and wasteful it was, and how it raised taxes beyond human power to pay, and that it must be done away with.”) These disgruntled taxpayers were the exception. For the most part, Parnassus was well received. If anything, eager farming families were disappointed the vehicle didn’t have more books. As Miesse herself reported, “We were not expecting and not well enough prepared for the voracious appetite for reading matter which we created.”

Besides Noblesville, Parnassus also served the townships of Wayne, White River, and Fall Creek. In 1922, service to these three townships was discontinued due to residents not wanting to pay the library tax levy, forcing the bookmobile to retreat to Noblesville. Further economic hardship caused the car to be sold to a farmer in 1932, who used it to hawk vegetables. Bookmobile service wouldn’t return to Noblesville until the 1980 “Knowmobile”.


Children use Parnassus outside of a one-room schoolhouse.

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