For avid readers and lovers of children’s literature, it is hard to imagine life with limited access to an abundance of books and information. But for much of history, books were a luxury and owning more than a family Bible was out of reach for many.
In 1855, a group of local women (calling themselves the Pioneers) formed the first library in Pendleton County. It was called “The Pioneer and Scientific Society” and may have been a subscription library, as was common at the time. Members would pay subscriptions for the privilege of borrowing books. According to local accounts, the society’s collection of 250 volumes was scattered during the Civil War and many of the books were lost.
In 1936, the Franklin Federated Women’s Club, led by Virginia Browning Boggs, re-established the library with donated books in the Franklin Hotel under the care of hotel employees. It is interesting to note that during this period, 75% of the nation’s public libraries had been established by women’s clubs.
The library collection later moved to the Hope-Lamb house on Main Street, and then to space at the fire house on High Street. During that period, Kathryn Priest Campbell was acting librarian. In 1952, the library moved again, to space in the county courthouse, where it remained for 22 years, first in an upstairs room and then downstairs in space now used by the county commission. Mary Leter Evick was the upstairs librarian and Nancy Sublett Reynolds was librarian after the collection moved downstairs in 1966.
In 1974, the expanding collection moved again – to two rooms in the McCoy House, and in 1976 Richard Harding was hired as library director. During the 1980s funding was available to have branch libraries in Circleville and Brandywine. County extension homemakers clubs were strong library supporters before and after construction of the present library, having contributed annually to a fund for purchase of a building site.
The West Virginia Library Commission contributed $324,000 for construction of the new library, with the remaining $82,000 raised locally. Ground was broken in April 1986 and the building was dedicated Dec. 5, 1987. State officials, members of the newly formed Friends of the Library and the entire student body of Franklin Elementary School were on hand for the big event.
The state also awarded the library $10,000 to expand its collection and a committee of 17 county residents was appointed to help select books for purchase. It was estimated the library would have 12,000 volumes by moving day.
Stellie Wagner, who served on the selection committee with others who still reside in the county, recalls those eventful years as “exciting times.” Millie Tuckerman, also on the committee, recalls the day boxes of books were moved from the McCoy House to the new site via a blocks-long “bucket brigade” of adults and children passing boxes of books hand-to-hand with a television crew recording the joyous event.
Laura Westbrook Hull became library director in 1989, followed by Charles and Virginia Bates, who served until 2010, when Becky McConnell, the current director, was appointed.
Article written in January 2022, by Mary Boyer-Rechlin, editor/writer of the Friends of Pendleton County Library newsletter.
Primary Sources: Pendleton County and Franklin histories from the library local history collection and the Pendleton Times archives.
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