Located at 5350 University Avenue, the Bona Thompson Memorial Library is the last surviving building of the BUTLER UNIVERSITYIrvington campus. Following the death of their daughter who was a recent alumna, Edward and Mary Thompson donated $40,000 ($1.8 million equivalent in 2020) to build a memorial library. It opened in January 1903.

Front view of a two-story Neo-classical building with arched mullioned windows. The roof is flat with a balustrade. The entrance, which extends from the front of the building, is flanked by columns.
Bona Thompson Memorial, ca. 1900s Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

Butler’s board hired Jesse T. Johnson, Dupont & Johnson, Indianapolis, to design the building. His brick and Indiana limestone design was one of the city’s earliest examples of monumental “City Beautiful” classicism. Johnson used current library concepts: central workstations, steel stacks, reinforced concrete floors, and electric lighting. Tall windows allow ample natural light.

The City of Indianapolis annexed Irvington while construction moved forward. Butler and library officials agreed that the library would serve jointly as Irvington’s branch of the Indianapolis Public Library and as Butler’s main library. The branch function lasted until 1914. Students at the adjacent, affiliated College of Missions (founded 1909) also used the collection.

When Butler reconvened at their Fairview Park campus in fall 1928, the old library closed. The DISCIPLES OF CHRIST moved its international headquarters into the College of Missions the same year. The church group assumed control of the old library in 1940, built additions, and named the whole complex “Missions Building.” The old library served as a bookstore, offices, and museum.

In 1995, the Disciples of Christ left the complex for a downtown location. Neighbors and the Irvington Historical Society successfully marketed the building. The old library serves as the Bona Thompson Memorial Center, a cultural center and home to the Irvington Historical Society. The center collects artifacts and has conducted oral history interviews to preserve the history of the neighborhood. It also promotes the art and history of Irvington to the public through museum exhibitions, walking tours, blogs, and special events. Among the most noteworthy pieces in the museum collection are murals by former Irvington artist Dorothy Morlan that once hung at City Hospital. The Irvington Historical Society saved the murals before the building was demolished and received funding from the Indiana Historical Society, the Owings Family Foundation, and the Irvington Community Council to begin the process of restoring them in 2019. The center also serves as a community meeting space.

Revised March 2021

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