By Carole Robinson, Senior Staff Writer
As Williamson War Memorial Library expanded in the 1980s, support came from many sources, including then-Brentwood Mayor Tom Bain, seated left, longtime county librarian Janice Keck, and Franklin City Administrator Marshall Liggett, standing left, and then-County Executive Wilburn Kelly, seated.
The Williamson County Public Library recently celebrated 10 years in its two-story multi-faceted facility at the old Battle Ground Academy campus on Columbia Avenue.
But the library’s story really began almost 100 years ago in the early 1920s with a “gift of a few books” to the Franklin Post 22 American Legion Auxiliary.
That initial simple gift became the nucleus of a county library system that continues to feed the literary appetite of patrons today.
Those first donated books were placed in a room adjacent to the Legion Hall, located within the Masonic Hall on Second Avenue in downtown Franklin.
Librarian Miss Blossom Amis volunteered her time to “The American Legion Library” making the books available to the public, thus setting in motion a longtime dream of a community library.
By 1936 that dream was poised to become a reality when the Legion Auxiliary joined forces with the Business and Professional Women’s Club to raise money to fund a one-year public library experiment.
In the midst of the Great Depression, the Auxiliary and the B&PW collected enough funds and books to get the experiment off the ground.
The chosen library location was the “sample room” at the back of the Post Hotel (now Fifth/Third Bank)—a room where traveling salesmen’s trunks were once stored.
The Legion’s books were loaned to the community library, combined with additional books donated by generous citizens.
According to the June 26, 1936 opening day program, the library provided, “free access to … opportunities for a continuing EDUCATION through life, for a most satisfying RECREATION, for INFORMATION in time of need and for INSPIRATION that sustains and stimulates.”
Public Square location, grassroots effort
From the day the doors opened in Legion Hall to the library room in the Post Hotel, the experiment exceeded all expectations.
Six months after opening, a luncheon was held at the hotel to discuss the library’s future.
Numerous organizations from around the county in attendance were asked: “Why spend money, time and effort teaching children to read without giving them something to read?” according to library records.
The community responded positively and the movement to create a permanent public library for the citizens of Franklin and Williamson County was born.
The Legion’s books were only a loan agreement initially, but it was not long before Post 22 of the American Legion made the donation permanent.
Included in that first offering were 50 volumes from the Presbyterian Sunday School Library and 100 volumes from the Tennessee Department of Education.
Contributions from clubs, organizations, businesses and public schools provided funds for additional books.
This truly was a community library.
Teachers throughout county’s most rural areas regularly checked out books for their students, and in the fall of 1937 those same teachers raised money to purchase additional books.
Their efforts were rewarded with matching funds from the state.
In July 1938, after listening to a report by Jim Eggleston on the library’s success, the County Court—now called the County Commission—included $1,000 in the annual budget for the library.
Their reasoning, according to records, is clear.
Commissioners knew that the services the library provided would make it possible for the county school system to “fulfill the State Library requirements for the eighth grade certificate.”
The additional funds meant the library could operate with a full-time librarian serving the entire county.
However, the county contribution came with a caveat—Franklin also had to do its part.
In November of the same year, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed to provide $50 a month to the library fund.
Within a year, the library outgrew its space.
In October 1939, the library board rented rooms in the Old Bank Building on the west side of The Public Square (now law offices of Buerger, Moseley and Carson, PLC) and once again members of the community came together to transform empty space into a home for books.
Event students of Franklin High School’s Manual Training class built the bookshelves.
Focus on and within the library changed with the onset of World War II. Instead of adding books to its collection, library supporters began collecting books to send to the soldiers.
Like many communities, Williamson County residents sought a “meaningful memorial to honor all who served their country during war.”
What better tribute than to dedicate the public library “as a Memorial to our Soldiers?”
The Williamson County Library was renamed The Williamson County Memorial Library, and according to library records fundraising to “purchase and properly equip a suitable building to house said library” began.
After securing $16,000, on April 2, 1948, the Library Board voted to purchase the German residence located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fair Street for $20,000.
The library moved into its first permanent home in January 1949 after more than $6,000 in renovations.
At that time the library only needed three rooms. That allowed the board to rent space to help with expenses.
Patrons support expands holdings
To put the library’s growth in perspective, former Attorney Gen. John Henderson, a member of the Library Board and later the Board of Directors wrote in 1949, “When the books were moved from the Legion Hall to the room on Main Street, they were hauled in a wheelbarrow; when the move was made to the Old Bank Building, the books were carried in two private automobiles; but when the latest move was made a large truck and four men were kept busy for two days.”
An arrangement was made with the Williamson County School Board, which stated the library would house the school system’s circulating library of children’s books and the librarian would purchase, catalogue and circulate the books to the schools.
The holdings were also available to individual children. In return, the school system furnished funds for the books and paid the librarian’s salary for 10 months each year. In the 1953-54 school year, that amounted to $2,000.
According to library records, in 1954 more than 10,600 books were circulated.
In 1962, the board voted to become a member of the Bluegrass Regional Library System.
That same year patronage grew to about 23,150 books circulated. The library had an inventory of 25,652 books on the shelves.
|Longtime Williamson County and Franklin resident Marie Jordan, left, and Oakview Elementary Reading Specialist JeNan Merrill, both active members of the Friends of the Williamson County Library Foundation, were on hand at the recent December reception.
In the late 1960s, the Williamson County Memorial Library housed in what was once a family home, was already showing a need for expansion.
By April 1976, the library boasted 10,300 registered patrons and owned 30,000 books, with about 6,000 books on loan from the Bluegrass Regional Library.
Five Points fire opens school property
On Jan. 13, 1962, Franklin Elementary School, which was located at Five Points, was destroyed by fire.
In 1969 that prime corner piece of land still lay fallow.
Local banker Sam Fleming stepped forward and offered $25,000 toward the construction of a new library, but there were conditions: it had to be built on the Five Points property where Franklin Elementary stood prior to the fire and the property was to be made available at no cost to the library.
While the Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed to turn over the city’s interest in the land to the library, the Franklin Special School District sought and received a ruling from the Court of Appeals stating the land had to be used for school purposes or sold and the proceeds used for schools.
In July 1976, as the cramped space worsened, the Library Board moved forward with another request for support.
This time the Williamson County Commission approved funds for a new library. The total: $800,000.
Dating back to 1950, the “County Court” had assisted “in the maintenance” of the Memorial Library while it was housed at the German House.
A payment of $15,000 was made from county coffers to “clear the library building of debt …”
During a Library Board meeting on June 1, 1976 the Heritage Foundation pledged one quarter of the proceeds from the 1976 Heritage Ball, or a minimum of $5,000, to the Library Building Fund. In September, the Heritage Foundation purchased the War Memorial Library building (The German House) on Fifth Ave. for $60,000.
Fairview moved from being a bookmobile station to a library branch in 1974 and the Brentwood branch opened in 1976.
On Dec. 1, 1977, the library Board of Trustees approved the purchase of the Five Points property for $51,500 and a new library was constructed with the doors open for patrons in the 1980s.
Around that same time, Williamson County began experiencing the growth that continues to this day.
In the mid-1990s, due to the expense of automating and computerizing the library system, the county took over responsibility of the library system and the name changed back to Williamson County Library; however Franklin still provides funds for the library in its annual budget.
The Williamson Memorial Public Library at Five Points was the library’s home for less than 25 years before it moved to its present 50,225 square foot, $8 million facility on Columbia Avenue in 2003.
The Williamson County Public Library and its five branches are a tribute to the many people spanning almost 100 years who gave time, energy and money to make books available for recreation, for education, for inspiration and for information.
Williamson County didn’t suddenly become the state’s epicenter of economic development.
The process began two centuries ago with visionary settlers who set the community’s destiny in motion.
The Williamson County Public Library is just one of the many legacies established by earlier residents which has given future generations something special to discover and perpetuate.
Posted on: 1/8/2014