A little blurb in an issue of The Sentinel dated 1913 states, “The ladies of Lithia Springs are eternally grateful to the Douglasville Boosters [a group of Douglasville businessmen] for the nice donation of $25 to build a chimney to their beloved Log Cabin Library which was in danger of being left in the cold, as Lithia Springs is building a new school house and now feeling mighty poor. Some of these days they will return the favor when Douglasville and her boosters turn their attention to such institutions in their town.”
Unfortunately, the ladies of Lithia Springs had to wait a long time to pay their debt because the public library in Douglasville didn’t open its doors until 1950.
From 1888 on people in Douglasville had access to the library at Douglasville College, but once the school closed in 1914 the city was without a lending library for many years.
In her history of Douglas County, Fannie May Davis points to J.R. Hutcheson, an attorney and Superior Court judge as the person who began a campaign to educate others on the need for a public library.
It took a few years for Hutchinson’s opinions to take hold. The Douglasville Boosters were busy building railroads, mills, hotels, banks and other businesses. Folks knew it would be fantastic to have a lending library, but other needs kept taking precedence, and then the Great Depression hit followed by World War II. According to Mrs. Davis it was 1949 before “various individuals and civic organizations [supported] the need for a public library.”
Mrs. Davis advises, “The auspicious years following World War II brought on a new era with a wave of technology which included electric lines running to our Georgia farms, television in every household; and hundreds of other inventions for man’s benefit and enjoyment, unheard of in the past. New ideas abounded, even the map of the world had changed in few years. Public libraries were adding new materials in every category of their collection; technical equipment had found its way into library service with the promise of much yet to come. Douglas County could wait no longer. The time of mere talk and wishful thinking was past.”
A town hall meeting was organized. Robert Griggs used his column in The Sentinel to discuss the amount of state and federal funds the city was losing each year because citizens didn’t have a public library they could access nearby.
Credit is given to the Douglas County Business and Professional Women’s Club for setting money aside specifically for the purpose to begin a public library. A library consultant with the Georgia State Board of Education spoke at a meeting for the group and advised there were state grants. She encouraged county officials to make an immediate application. Early library grants provided as much as $700 for books and a one-time grant for the establishment of a library for $300.
A library board was finally set up with Robert Griggs as the chairman with Hugh Webb, Lottie Banks, and Minnie Kate James as members. Ms. James was also appointed as the treasurer, and she remained in that position until her death in 1969.
This first effort included raising matching funds to qualify for a state grant for $1,000. At this point the majority of citizens were on board, and they received unanimous response from civic and religious organizations as well as other county and municipal boards.
Ruth Warren accepted the position of librarian and in June, 1950 books and magazines were being ordered to fill the shelves.
The next item on the agenda was a location for the library. Mr. W.Y. White owned a building at the corner of Bowden and Broad Streets….now referred to as the Dennis Connally building. He offered the second floor of his building rent free. It was a deal too good to pass up.
During the summer volunteers worked on building shelves and painting the space.
This is where Douglas County citizen Margaret (Rowe) McMichen, wife of county inspector Zollie McMichen figures into the story. Margaret’s grandson Blake McMichen and his wife Donna advise me that Margaret (known to her friends as Mick) was an avid reader, quilter, and mother to five busy kids.
Fannie Mae Davis relates, “It was a happy day for Margaret [(Rowe) McMichen] when, in 1950, she read in The Sentinel that a move was underway to establish a public library in Douglasville. Margaret was one of the first patrons. No one enjoyed the library more than she.
On observing the small collection of books in the new library, Margaret selected over 100 books from her own quite extensive home library and donated them to Douglas County Library. Her gift of books was not all. She [arrived at the library] one day with a beautiful hand-embroidered, outdoor scene, appropriate for a wall decoration. That beautiful piece of art has adorned a wall in the local library for over 40 years. Artists have been known to sketch the scene and many viewers stand before it in admiration."
I’ve walked by the embroidered piece often and have admired it through the years not realizing I knew members of her family.
Fannie Mae Davis continues, “Margaret died in early 1973. Soon after their mother’s death, her children, Bessie M. Porter, Janet L. Umphrey, James, Jerry, and David McMichen, made a memorial gift of money to the Douglas County Public Library, with a request that it be used for books. A fine set of encyclopedias was purchased for the library in loving memory of Margaret.”
The library formally opened on September 6, 1950 which 2,000 books on the shelves. Over one hundred patrons registered for a library card that first day with the honor of first patron going to fourteen-year-old Barbara Rainwater.
By 1956, a little over eight thousand books had been checked out.
It wasn’t long before Edith Foster with the West Georgia Regional Library met with the library board regarding a merger with Douglas. The regional library included libraries in Carroll, Heard, and Haralson Counties, and a merger would include according to Mrs. Davis “a much larger and more varied group of materials” for Douglas citizens. Services would also include a book mobile which would distribute needed books to each public school.
There is always a catch, though, right?
In order to be part of the regional group $3,000 would need to be raised towards the bookmobile and $1,200 would have to be budgeted annually towards it. Thankfully the Douglas County Board of Education saw the wisdom in the merger and voted to participate. Douglas Grammar and Douglas County High jointly held a Halloween Carnival and raised $1,000.
A new City Hall was completed in January, 1953 at the corner of Church and Bowden Streets. One wing of the new building was set aside for the library. Fannie May Davis advised this was about the same time the Douglas County Board of Commissioners took over the support of the library and the Board of Education continued to support the bookmobile
There was another move in 1958 when what we consider today to be the “old” courthouse was built in the middle of town.
Fannie Mae Davis took over as head librarian in 1961, and a couple of years later along with R.L.Smith, chairman of the Douglas County Commissioners of Roads and Revenues, applied to the Federal government through the Library Services and Construction Act for funds to build a new building. It was a combined venture using city, county, state and federal funds.
The result was a building at the corner of Bowden and Spring Street that was opened in August, 1967. Unfortunately, due to the library’s popularity the space was inadequate almost from the very day it opened. Today this location houses The Sentinel offices….you can still see the book deposit slot on the front of the building if you know where to look
Mrs. Davis advises the Bowden/Spring location was designed by Sheetz and Bradfield Architects of Atlanta and built by Paige Brothers Construction Company of Dallas, Georgia. The Town and Country Garden Club provided landscaping.
Ruth Warren returned as head librarian in 1981 and oversaw the building of the main library’s current location on Selman Drive in 1985.