The South Australian Institute was formed to promote the arts, science and education. This involved the exchange of boxes of books to various Institutes throughout the state, and Mount Pleasant became a part of this organisation.
FORMATION OF THE INSTITUTE…
On 3rd July 1863 eighteen gentlemen met at Miss Freeman’s schoolroom (this is the now Mount Pleasant Primary School) to draw up the constitution and find suitable premises for a proposed library. Messrs. George Melrose, John Bennett, James Maitland, Thomas Roberts and Rev. Joseph Boake accepted this task. The first committee meeting was held in the house of Mr. T. Roberts who provided room for the library and was the first Secretary and Librarian, before the committee was able to rent two rooms from Mr. James Hall. The library had been stored on shelves at the public school, and in 1867 a room then became available at Robert Wylie’s General Store (opposite Mount Pleasant Hotel).
It was as a member of the Mount Pleasant Institute that newcomers to the district encompassed the society of the district. On 2nd July 1884 the Intitute members decided to purchase the Wesleyan chapel (in Showground road), after it had been disbanded by the Church. A government grant had been obtained for the purchase of the building which was opened on 17 September 1875.
Regular events were held in these premises, and became so popular that the first additions were added in 1878. By 1898 the first caretaker-librarians were employed – the Webbs had retired from their Tungkillo General Store to Mount Pleasant.
A new piano was purchased with funds donated by artists, with encouragement from Robert Melrose. Concerts, dances, benefit concerts and regular meetings of community groups were held in the Institute. During 1886-1887 Henry Giles snr gifted the allotment between the Institute and the main street for a road (Memorial Road), enabling patrons easy access to the Institute and on Show Day.
The Institute building was used as the Exhibition Hall for the annual Show during the late 1800s until the Show Society purchased the building in the 1950s.
GAS ACETYLENE LIGHTING
Alfred Townsend arrived in Mount Pleasant in 1901 and organised skating competitions in the Institute to raise money for modernising the building and the main street lights. Gas aceytaline lamps were installed in the main street, the first country town to do so, and powered by a generator under the control of the Institute Committee. With the departure of Alfred Townsend in 1908, the enthusiasm for this system declined. The South Rhine District Council would not or could not continue the system and sold the generator in 1918, much to the disgust of Alfred Townsend who had been following the events of this saga, from his office as Clerk at Pinnaroo.
THE NEW PREMISES
In 1913 plans were shown to the meeting regarding a new structure and Mr. R. T. Melrose donated 100 pounds to add to the funds already collected for the new building.
On 7 April 1914 Robert Melrose offered a personal donaton to the building fund, providing the Committee waited to raise enough money for rebuilding, and did not detract from the support of the campaign for the coming railway. In the meantime Lachie McBean offered a block of land suitable for the new Institute – a triangular block on the corner of Melrose Street, Herriot Road and Saleyard Road (now Mount Pleasant Second-hand).
On 25 May 1920 a resolution was made approving the erection of a new building to be called the Mount Pleasant Soldiers Memorial Hall, for which a considerable federal government subsidy would by available.
Durign 1920-1922 Robert Melrose attempted to persuade landholders to part with suitable allotments for the new building, to no avail, but with the death of H. A. Giles in 1921, much of his property adjoining Mount Pleasant township was sold at public auction, and R. T. Melrose purchased the majority.
He quickly announced his donation of land on which the current Hall stands. By ten votes to six the Institute Committee accepted the gift of Robert Melrose, but much of the community refused to work towards the new institute, out of respect of Councillor Jim Herriot of the South Rhine District Council who had openly supported the offer of Lachie McBean. Instead, support was given to the new Mount Pleasant Hospital, which was built on land donated by Robert Melrose, from the parcel of that of H. A. Giles.
The railway had come to Mount Pleasant in 1918, the new Hospital was opened in July 1924, and then work began on raising funds for the new Soldiers Memorial Hall.
The building was regularly used for socialising by the various groups within the district, and in 1970 the local ladies of the district catered for a luncheon for a Farmers’ Symposium in the old Institute building, as the present one was used for the presentation speakers during the day. Over 500 people attended this function.
The controversy regarding the placement of the new institute created divisions with the townspeople, however residents of today enjoy the beautiful tudor-style 1920s building and appreciate the forethought of those early settlers of the district.
The Quiet Waters By, Reg Butler