'A real labor of love': Developers restoring Elwood Carnegie Library to maintain its rich history

Elwood Carnegie Library by Lee Lewellen.jpg
Posted at 12:31 PM, Oct 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-21 19:30:38-04

ELWOOD — The long-vacant Elwood Carnegie Library is soon to be restored and given new life as a wedding and event space for the Madison County community.

Once declared "A Marvel of Beauty" by The Elwood Daily Record, the Elwood Carnegie Library — one of hundreds funded and built by 19th-century industrialist Andrew Carnegie — was built in 1903 and first opened in 1904.

After nearly a century, it closed in 1995 as the then-library board approved plans for a new $2.3 million library to be built right across the street, citing "wiring problems and lack of space" as key issues with the Carnegie Library, according to the North Madison County Library.

The new Elwood Library opened in 1997, and the old Carnegie Library sat vacant for over two decades.

Although an out-of-state developer bought the property in 2018, no improvements were made to the building. In 2020, Indiana Landmarks declared the Carnegie Library one of the state's 10 most endangered historic places.

It wasn't too long after making the unfortunate list that Greg Butts, a local developer and owner of Wild Blackberry Farms in Fortville, decided to buy the property. Butts tells WRTV he had no idea the property was even on the endangered list when he decided to buy the Carnegie Library. He says a wedding coordinator who was organizing a wedding one weekend on his farm told him about the building being available.

"When we walked in and saw all the details, all the trim work, all the molding, all the things that kind of make you excited about a building ... it was like, OK, this is something we have to do," Butts said.

MORE: New mixed-use development breathes life into old Logansport mall


Elwood Mayor Todd Jones tells WRTV he is grateful for the Butts family swooping in to breathe new life into the Carnegie Library as "The Carnegie Indiana." Born and raised in Elwood, Mayor Jones says the building is vital to the community and its history.

"I grew up in this library. As a kid, I frequented it weekly, and it just brings back a lot of great memories," Mayor Jones said. "It does my heart very good to see someone come in and want to renovate this facility and make it a gathering center."

Butts says as he and his team have been working on the library, they've had people from the community stop by, often giving thanks, telling stories, and sharing old newspaper clippings that featured the library. He said he often gets stories about people who attended preschool in the basement of the library and is told stories about the "newspaper room" for the town's men, which operated as a gentleman's room.

"It's my understanding, this was kind of the cornerstone in the community for quite a while," Butts said.

And the stories don't stop there. The building with such a rich history has etchings on the wood panelings and bricks from the people who built the library in 1903 and beyond. Butts doesn't plan to cover up those messages and is finding different things throughout the historic building he plans to put on display.

"I think a lot of the details that people love about the library we're definitely paying respects to; so, the windows, the walls, the ornate ceiling, the staircase, the old doors, the floor," Butts said.

One of the companies assisting with the renovation is The Patch Boys. A co-owner of the plastering company, Sarah Peter, says helping with this unique project has been an honor. The restoration work for The Patch Boys includes the 22-foot arched and decorated ceilings and installing new drywall in the venue's prep kitchen, bar, and bathrooms.

"Being able to salvage the building and use it for an event venue space was very exciting for us," Peter said. "With the ceilings and the molding, I'm super excited to see it progress. To get the painting and the floors done. We're a big supporter here and going to be watching this project all the way through."


When Butts first saw the library, he says the space called to be an event space.

"I think a building like this needs to be appreciated and needs to be visited," Butts said.

The event space will, of course, be available for weddings, but Butts says the building will also be open on a smaller scale as well. The Carnegie will be available for birthday parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and class reunions.

Butts says the community has really backed this project, and he wants people to be able to come and enjoy it for any reason.

"It's really turned out to be a real labor of love," Butts said.

The same woman who initially told Butts about the library created The Carnegie's Instagram account. In its first few posts, detailing the restoration process, Butts said they quickly had 20,000 followers.

"They say Elwood is the heart of Hoosierland, and I like to say it's because of all the great people we have," Mayor Jones said.

Mayor Jones says he looks forward to the The Carnegie being renewed, along with the entire city.

"This building has sat stagnant for a very long time, so (I look forward to) seeing people coming in here and hearing the laughter and making the memories like it did when it was the Carnegie Library," Mayor Jones said.

Butts is aiming for a 2023 opening of The Carnegie.

You can follow the restoration work of The Carnegie on Instagram and Facebook.

MORE: Town outside of Bloomington selling four buildings for $1

WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.