The following article by Charles Hartley originally appeared in The Pioneer News on 14 Aug 2023. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
With the opening of the new Central Library on Conestoga Parkway in Shepherdsville, the former Ridgway Memorial Library building now quietly stands, awaiting its future role in the community.
It had been expanded into its present form in 2007, after its initial construction a quarter century earlier. Named for Dr. and Mrs. Samuel Howard Ridgway, it replaced an earlier building on the same corner, once the home and office of Dr. Ridgway.
But the library's history goes back much further than that. In fact, it is said to have begun almost a century ago when, in 1924, William Troll donated 500 books to the Bullitt County Woman's Club to form the basis of a library.
William Troll was a rural mail carrier in the county, and a brother of Mrs. Ivy McBride, a charter member of the Woman's Club.
As both William and Ivy were associated with the St. Aloysius Catholic Church, the first library was housed in a room provided by the church for many years. Over the years it moved about, and by 1960 it was located in an old home on Main Street just north of the Baptist Church, and owned by that church.
Its collection of books had grown to more than 13,500, and its circulation the previous year had passed 55,000, many of which had been checked out by school children and/or through the bookmobile that circulated about the county.
However, the building housing the library was in really bad shape. It had been purchased a few years earlier by the church with an eye toward tearing it down and using the lot for church expansion, and the library was using it rent-free. A citizen's group was formed that year to raise funds for a new building, but contributions were slow coming in, and the library moved to a small building behind the Pike Law Office.
Flooding that decade caused the books to be moved to Roby Elementary for a time.
It would take the generosity of a local family to provide the library with a new home.
As I wrote a decade ago in another forum, Samuel Howard Ridgway was born in 1872 on the family farm in Bullitt County not far from Cupio. Howard Ridgway, as he was known to the older generation, knew early on that he wanted to be a doctor. In 1893 he graduated from the Kentucky Medical College in Louisville, and began his practice at Bardstown Junction. In 1895, he married Margaret Hardy, a daughter of Frank and Malinda Hardy. He also practiced medicine at Brooks and Pitts Point before moving his office to Shepherdsville where in 1905 he purchased a place to live and work from Charles Carroll. This would be their home and his office for the remainder of their lives.
The Ridgways had two children: Willie May and Samuel Jr. As a young lady, Willie May Ridgway taught school here in Bullitt County. She married Isaac Smith of Winchester in 1931, and they had a son they named Billy Howard. Then tragically she died of an infection on Christmas Eve, 1938. Young Billy Howard would come to live with his grandparents.
Dr. Ridgway died in June 1943, after giving a half century's devotion to his patients, many of whom he had delivered as babies. Mrs. Ridgway continued to live in that white house on the corner until her death in 1962.
The following year, Samuel Ridgway, Jr. and Billy Howard Smith, heirs to the estate, made it possible for the library to have a home of its own for the first time since it was established in 1924, by donating the house and lot. In return the library was to be known as the Ridgway Memorial Library.
In July 1963 the new library was formally dedicated. Howard Hardaway wrote about it: "The move from the library's old quarters to the new, a distance of about 200 feet, was handled by a line of about 50 young workers passing the books hand to hand all along the way like an old-fashioned bucket brigade."
A decade later the old Ridgway home was feeling its age while rapidly expanding its collection, and it was clear that a larger facility was needed soon.
Fortunately, help was on the way. The Kentucky legislature had authorized a procedure whereby a petition asking for a library tax in a county would have 90 days to garner signatures of at least 51 percent of the total voting in the county in the previous general election. And thanks to the efforts of quite a few local citizens going door to door gathering signatures, that goal was met in Bullitt County in the spring of 1967.
With a steady source of income now available, and with federal funds becoming available through the Library Services Act, the local library board was able to raise the $180,000 needed to build a new facility on the grounds of the former Ridgway property.
The dedication of the new facility in January 1973 was a happy day for long-time librarian Dorothea Stottman who had shepherded the library from its time on Main Street, and whose name would later be attached to the facility in Hillview in 1984.
This new Ridgway Memorial Library building would serve until 2006 when it was renovated with additional space. During construction the facility operated out of a temporary facility off Cedar Grove Road.
Ridgway would serve its community well into the 21st century before being replaced by the new Central Library, and only time will tell what is to become of the building itself.
Copyright 2023 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.