|The Wm. H. & Edgar J. Magness Community House and Library or "Magness Library"
Opening day picture 1932
Col. Gentry Moffitt contributed the money to expand the library, the new section now houses the
Children's Department and on the second floor the Fiction Room.
Mr. Magness beside the cornerstone doing construction.
The Magness Library had its origin in a very unlikely event in 1913. The “McMinnville Women’s Civic League” was looking for that seminal civic
project that would perpetuate the young organization. To these civic minded women, who spent time in downtown McMinnville, there was an
obvious societal need seeking a solution. When most rural families came to town it was an all day excursion and most trying on women,
particularly those with small children. When the woman finished her shopping there was no place to rest and wait for her husband to finish
whatever the business that brought them to town. Thus on July 18, 1913 “The Women’s Civic League” opened a Women’s Rest Room in the
Walling Flats building on the south side of Court Square. Mrs. Mary Cunningham, a charter member of the civic league, and her family lived in the
building and she agreed to establish, operate and maintain the facility. Sufficient supplies and materials to open were received as donations
and the county and city agreed to pay the $10 per month rent and maybe contribute $5 per month for expenses.
From the beginning, Mrs. Cunningham considered her role as a clarion call to Christian service that she unfailingly pursued every day until her
death in 1954.
The library experience began the day after the restrooms opened. Mrs. Cunningham looked out the front door and saw a young boy, about 10
years old, sitting on the dark curb throwing rocks at anything that moved. As a distraction Mrs. Cunningham offered the boy a magazine with
pictures which he declined saying he liked books. Mrs. Cunningham returned to her apartment and selected one of her son's books and took it
back to the boy. He sat quietly on the curb and read the entire book before his father returned to pick him up. He returned the book and thanked
Mrs. Cunningham, whereupon she offered him another book, told him he could take it home and return it the next time his father brought him to
town. The McMinnville Free Lending Library was born.
Mrs. Cunningham related her experience to other members of the Civic League and immediately, the Women’s Rest Room became a repository
for lots of good reading material. Patrons who took materials home were asked to return the books in a reasonable time but they could keep the
magazines. It was several months before a loaned book was not returned.
by: Charles "Shot" Nunley
photo courtesy of Brady-Beasley-Hughes archives
photo courtesy of Brady-Beasley-Hughes archives
The First Benefactor
In its first one hundred years, thousands of patrons and supporters of Magness Library have liberally contributed to the operation, expansion,
and upkeep of the library. Public funding has never been adequate to even operate the library much less improve and expand the book holdings,
provide technology, maintain the facility and continue the 100 year tradition of providing the community an outstanding and diversified library.
Of course the two largest benefactors were W.H. Magness and who built the first permanent library building in 1931, and Col. Gentry Moffitt
whose bequest funded the expansion and modernization completed in 2007. But perhaps an equally significant benefactor was one whose
support began in 1913, and whose greatest contribution did not include money.
Laura Davis Worley was a philanthropist in her own right. Laura was born in McMinnville in 1849, the daughter of Frank and Betty Davis. She
died in August 1937 at her home in St. Louis and was buried in Riverside Cemetery in McMinnville. Laura was educated in Nashville and
graduated from St. Cecilia Convent in 1865. Although she never returned to McMinnville as a resident she was a regular visitor making an
extended visit, often for a month, every two or three years. While visiting she would usually stay in the home of a relative; often at her uncle Col.
John H. Savage’s farm about four miles east of McMinnville.
Laura made the acquaintance of Mrs. Mary Cunningham shortly after Mrs. Cunningham opened the Women’s Rest Room and Library in 1913.
Writing years later Laura noted how enamored she was of Mrs. Cunninghams work to make life a little easier for rural women and children. She
related her personal experience of frequently traveling from Col. Savages farm to downtown McMinnville knowing she could not clean off the dust
and grime until returning to the farm late in the day.
During a 1914 visit to McMinnville Laura told Mrs. Cunningham that she and her sister Florence would like to contribute a permanent memorial to
the community in memory of their parents, and she asked Mrs. Cunninghams help in choosing the venue and composition of the memorial. At
the time Mrs. Cunningham was organizing the first youth group to support and promote the rest room and library. A major project for the youth
group was carrying water from the city spring up to the park for the birds and animals. Mrs. Cunningham immediately proposed that Laura
consider a fountain in the park as not only a fitting memorial but an utilitarian gift to the community.
Laura named a committee to choose the fountain that included the McMinnville Mayor, The Chairman of the County Commission, Mrs.
Cunningham, the publisher of the newspaper, the president of the Womens Civic League, some ministers and several others. Upon her return
to St. Louis, Laura began to accumulate information on various options for the committee to choose from. She presented them a multitude of
options and the committee unanimously selected a three level fountain that could accommodate horses, small animals and people and topped
by the sculptor Thorwaldsen’s statue of Hebe.
Writing about the presentation of the fountain Mrs. Worley in part notes, “ The statue of Hebe is very popular and it is poetic justice for the
descendent of the first child of European parents born in America to ornament by his beautiful work so many American cities.
“In Greek mythology Hebe was the goddess of youth and the fair daughter of Jupiter and Juno and was originally the cup bearer to the gods. She
married Hercules thus typifying youth, beauty and strength.”
In closing Mrs. Worley said, “As I give this fountain to commemorate incidents of unselfish devotion in the lives of my parents, I am glad it is
Thorwaldsen’s beautiful Hebe who stands above their names.”
The Davis Memorial Fountain was dedicated with a service in the park at 10:00 a.m., Thursday May 20, 1915. The service included songs by
“schoolchildren”, scripture and prayer by Rev. Morgan Lee Starke, History of the Womens Civic League by Mr. Esten Richards, Tribute to Capt. O.
W. Davis by Capt. Massengale of St. Louis, remarks on the life of Capt. Davis by Mr. Issac T. Rhea of Nashville, Heroism of Mrs. O.W. Davis on
the Murfreesboro Battlefield by Mrs. J.M. Cunningham, memorial to Mrs. Davis by Mrs. C.K. Reifsneider, presentation of fountain to town and
county by Elder Price Billingsley, acceptation by Mayor John L. Willis, unveiling by Miss Catherine Davis Elkins, and the placing of a wreath by
Master Radford Reams.
The Davis Memorial Fountain with Hebe on top has been a landmark in downtown McMinnville for almost 100 years and hopefully will celebrate
several more 100 year Anniversaries. For the last fifty years the fountain has been commonly referred to as simply Hebe. Water has not been
connected in many years and few people even recognize it as anything more than a beautiful statue on an ornate base. As you walk by, admire
the beauty,read the inscription, and remember the generosity of a native daughter, Laura Davis Worley.
Laura Davis Worley and her sister Florence Davis gave the Hebe statue and fountain to the community in Apr 1915, in honor of their parents, Mr.
and Mrs. O.W. Davis. In her correspondence and conversations Laura Worley made clear the gift was to honor her parents but was also an early
tribute to Mary Cunningham and her work with the Women’s Rest Rooms Library. Laura actively supported Mrs. Cunningham and the library until
Laura died in July 1937.
Laura Davis Worley was a fascinating character, a dominating personality and warrants a closer look by supporters of Magness Library because
without her there would probably not be a Magness Library. As noted in the previous article Laura was born in McMinnville, was educated at St.
Cecelia Convent in Nashville, were she endured the Civil War and graduated from St. Cecelia in 1865.
Laura considered her formal classes at St. Cecelia a good beginning in her education process. She continued her studies of music, painting,
and the French language with private teachers and supplemented with extensive travel throughout the United States and Canada. Her sister
Florence, two years younger, accompanied Laura in her travels.
Sometime in the next few years Laura met Frank Worley of Ellettsville, Indiana. Frank Worley’s family had been successful merchants and in
1872 Frank established the Worley Bank in Ellettsville. In 1875 Laura and Frank were married in Ellettsville. The Worley Bank proved very
successful and Frank was soon considered the largest property owner in the county.
Laura, never one to sit idly by, decided to become a dairy farmer and she did it in a big way. One publication of the time noted Laura personally
superintended her large herd of Holstein and Jersey cattle and “makes a high grade of creamery butter”. She was affiliated with the agriculture
department at Purdue University and was writing for several Indiana publications about dairy farming issues.
By the mid 1880’s the attention of the country, and to only a slightly less degree, the attention of the world was focused on Chicago and the Great
World’s Fair, The Columbia Exposition, scheduled to open in 1893. The Exposition promised to be the Greatest World’s Fair up to that time. The
Exposition exceeded expectations and is recognized today as perhaps the greatest World’s Fair ever.
The Governor of Indiana appointed Laura Worley as Indiana’s representative on the Fairs Executive Committee. In a publication announcing her
appointment she was described as a “Woman of untiring energy and finds time to attend to the social duties of life without neglecting some of
her public or private business, and entertains in her elegant home many of the most cultured and gifted people of the day.” Laura’s sister
Florence was appointed by the Governor of Tennessee to also serve on the World’s Fair commission.
The object of the Women’s pavilion at the World’s Fair was to “show the condition of the female sex throughout the world and the achievements
of women in all branches of human endeavor.” Although a long way from her roots in McMinnville, I’m sure Laura delighted in being a part of an
endeavor focused on the achievements of Women.
Laura Davis Worley’s friendship with, and admiration for the work of Mrs. Mary Cunningham began with their first meeting shortly after the
Women’s Rest Room and Library opened in 1913. Mrs. Worley enlisted Mrs. Cunninghams assistance in selecting a fitting memorial to present
to the community in memory of her parents, Mr. & Mrs. O.W. Davis. Their collaboration concluded with the presentation and dedication of the
Hebe Statue and fountain in the downtown park in May of 1915.
Mrs. Worley and her husband, Frank’s primary home was in St. Louis, Missouri, but they also owned a “Mansion” on Mobile Avenue in Daytona,
Florida where they spent the winters. During their travels between St. Louis and Daytona Beach Mrs. Worley would often visit friends and
relatives in McMinnville, sometimes staying for several weeks.
It was on one of her visits in 1914 that Laura began to openly discuss with Mrs. Cunningham and others her desire to build a permanent and
appropriate home for the Womens Rest Room and Library. At the time the Rest Room and Library was located in a room in a wood frame
building on the south side of the downtown park. The building was divided into apartments including the one where Mrs. Cunningham and her
family lived. Although the primary purpose for the 1914 visit was to complete all the arrangements for the location and dedication of the Hebe
Statue and Fountain, Mrs. Worley’s new proposal to provide the community with a new home for the Rest Room and Library soon became the
talk of the town.
After Mrs. Worley’s return to St. Louis she received a letter from Thomas Mason, a close friend and political ally of McMinnville Mayor, John Willis.
The town was in the process of converting the Mumford house into a school and as usual was looking for money. Mr. Mason reiterated Mayor
Willis position that the Rest Rooms and Library were not practical and the people would not care for either. Mr. Mason then suggested Mrs.
Worley do something useful with the $10,000 she would spend on the Rest Rooms and Library facility and build an auditorium for the school as
a memorial to her late uncle Colonel John H. Savage. Mrs. Worley was not enamored with Mr. Masons letter. In her response she said “The
Rest Rooms under the able management of that most unselfish Christian woman, Mrs. Cunningham has been a source of untold comfort to
hundreds of women and children.” She formalized her offer to give $10,000 to build a two story brick building – Rest Rooms on the lower floor
and Library, Archives and Club Meeting Rooms on the upper floor.
Mrs. Worley further stipulated “The conditions of the gift are: That a suitable lot shall be purchased by County or Town and provisions made for
the maintenance of the building. 2% interest on the original $10,000 shall be paid semi-annually to Laura D. Worley, Florence Davis, or F.E.
Worley as long as they live in the order listed. At the death of the last of the three the $10,000 becomes the property of the Town or County in fee
simple. This is a standing offer until I notify you of its withdrawal.”
This was the first of several offers over the years by Mrs. Worley to build a Rest Room and Library.