Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year. This is the first article in a series on Bartlett’s library history. See the Sept. 1 issue for the second article.
Bartlett’s library history began with rural readers traveling to downtown Memphis to go to the big city’s library, which opened in 1893, before demand grew for something more local. That first public library in Memphis was at the corner of Front and Monroe. Frederick Cossitt, a wealthy businessman, wanted to build a library for Memphis to thank the city for its hospitality, but he died in 1887 before he could complete his plan. His daughters chose to honor his pledge and donated $75,000 for the library. The architecture of the building was a Romanesque monument with a red sandstone turret towering above the Memphis skyline. This impressive building became a major landmark for the city. This was the only library in Memphis for many years.
As Raleigh and Bartlett began to grow in the 1950s, a group of people called the Weeders and Seeders Garden Club was opening volunteer libraries, not public libraries, throughout the county, and a group of women decided to open one in Raleigh for the Raleigh-Bartlett area. The Raleigh-Bartlett Community Library was opened on June 15, 1954, under a charter granted by the State of Tennessee, in the Weaver Building on James Road, just west of the intersection with Austin Peay Highway. People donated 800 books to put on shelves made of apple boxes and scrap lumber. It was open just eight hours a week.
The only other volunteer library in the county was in Whitehaven, where volunteers offered advice and encouragement to the garden clubbers. There was only one Bartlett person with library experience, Willie Gotten, to show volunteers how to catalog books. The 1955 Board of the Raleigh-Bartlett Community Library included Mrs. Mertie (S.J.) Buckman, chairman; Mrs. Mike Liles, vice-chairman; Mrs. Marian (R.M.) O’Daniel, secretary; and Mrs. Carol (C.P.) Reid, treasurer. Board members were Mrs. Willie (Dave) Gotten, Mrs. Sarah (D.J.) Guillory, Miss Dora Gholson, Mrs. Reid, Mrs. O’Daniel, and Mrs. Clarence Saunders for Bartlett; Mrs. Buckman, Mrs. Liles, Mrs. E.F. Scott, Mrs. Bush Poole, Mrs. Dan Hinckley and Mrs. Eugene Frase for Raleigh; Mrs. U.G. Currier and Mrs. Charles James for James Road; and Mrs. Richard McDougal and Mrs. Ed Jappe for nearby rural areas.
Eleven months later, the library had grown to a collection of 2,200 books and 500 registered library users. The library moved just down the street to 4225 James Road into a five-room house owned by O.T. Hatley. Mrs. Hatley leased the house to the library for free the first year and later raised the rent to $25 a month. In March 1956 the Raleigh-Bartlett library was taken into the Shelby County Library System, which agreed to furnish books, a librarian, utilities and janitor service. The Memphis Public library agreed to supervise the operation of the library. Mrs. Elizabeth Hinckley was employed as librarian and continued to serve in that capacity until her resignation in 1966. By the mid-1960s women in Germantown and Arlington had started work on their own libraries.
“If you look at the history behind most branch libraries you will almost always find 10 to 20 women who met in somebody’s living room to talk about the need for a library in their community,” said Judith Drescher, director of the Memphis Shelby County Public Library and Information Center, in a 1996 article in the Commercial Appeal newspaper.
With heavy library usage and phenomenal population growth in Bartlett and Raleigh in the 1960s, it became apparent that citizens needed expanded library facilities. Mr. Charles Baker, county court chairman, began working to build a branch library.
To be continued in the Sept. 1 issue.