James Henry Tyson was born September 14, 1856, the son of William and Eliza Tyson of Versailles.
The early part of James Tyson’s life was spent in the printing industry, working in Versailles and Osgood, Indiana. He eventually traveled beyond his hometown throughout the United States and the world. In Chicago, Illinois, he met and became friends with Charles Walgreen. This friendship led Mr. Tyson to several positions in the Walgreen Co., including the firm’s first bookkeeper and, following its 1916 incorporation, its secretary.
While traveling the world and living in Chicago, Mr. Tyson retained strong feelings for his home town of Versailles. His donation of 18,000 shares of Walgreen Co. stock, established the Tyson Fund which was to finance the building of the Methodist Church, the public library, waterworks and other community activities.
Today the Tyson Temple Methodist Church, the Tyson Library and Tyson Waterworks are a living legacy of the hard work, dedication and devotion to family and friends of this industrialist, humanitarian, philanthropist, and native son of Versailles, Indiana – James Tyson, “Uncle Jim” as he was affectionately called.
Uncle Jim died on November 1, 1941, and is buried in Cliff Hill Cemetery in Versailles.
“Versailles and Ripley County folk were greatly pleased this week when they learned that “Uncle Jim” Tyson is making arrangements to erect and equip a library which he will bestow as a gift to the town of Versailles.” Versailles Republican, September 19, 1940.
Fully funded by the Tyson Trust, established by James H. Tyson, construction on the Tyson Library began in 1941 and the Library was officially opened on April 30, 1942.
The original structure included an adult reading room, children’s room, offices, and a lobby on the main floor. The lower level included a community room and offices for the county agriculture agent and county home economics agent. The exterior was designed with white glazed brick and copper roof to harmonize with the architecture of the Tyson Temple located across the street.
Mrs. Alexander H. Thomson, owner of the Old Timbers Lodge in the Jefferson Proving Grounds area, donated heavy solid oak tables, chairs, couches and desks to the library. This furniture which had been in the large room of the lodge was made at Berea College, Berea, Kentucky, and is still in use at the library, today.
Miss Mae Konkle a teacher, with Library Science credits, in the Versailles High School accepted the job as first librarian of the Tyson Library.
In 2002, a building project was commenced to nearly double the size of the existing building by adding a new addition on the west side of the original library. The addition blended the exterior with a matching brick and roof line. Inside the addition allowed for added space in the fiction and non-fiction areas, a dedicated computer area, expanded reference and video area, access for those with physical disabilities, and the children’s area was able to be relocated to the main floor. The lower level was then allocated to public meeting space. An official dedication ceremony for the new addition was held, May 3, 2003.
The mission of the Tyson Library continues today, as established by the will of James Tyson… to provide contemporary and traditional library resources and services necessary to meet the evolving educational, recreational, and informational needs of the public, thus enhancing the individual and the community.