Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year.
1With heavy library usage and phenomenal population growth in Bartlett and Raleigh in the 1960s, it became apparent that citizens needed expanded library facilities. The County Court began working to build a branch library in the incorporated towns and other rapidly growing areas. They were able to secure funds allocated by the Federal Library Services and Construction Administration, which were supplemented by an appropriation from the County Court to build branches in various parts of the county. In 1966 the Raleigh Branch of the Shelby County Libraries was built at 3157 Powers Road in Raleigh.
Under the leadership of Mayor Oscar T. Yates, the Bartlett Board of Aldermen acquired a one-acre site for $2,500 from the L & N Railroad in the heart of the business district as the location for a library. Mayor Yates also said there was enough land left to build a new post office, and it was one of three sites being considered by the Post Office Department. The library location was 5803 Stage Road.
Sept. 10, 1967, was a banner day for Bartlett–the dedication of the first public library in the history of Bartlett. Approximately 300 people attended the dedication ceremony of the Bartlett Branch of the Shelby County Libraries. The 4,000-squarefoot building had a capacity for 20,000 books and a seating capacity for 20 persons. Miss Beverly Speck was the librarian. Mayor Oscar T. Yates presided at the ceremony and dedication was by Mr. David McPherson, a teacher at Bartlett High School. The invocation was given by the Rev. Irvin Hays of Bartlett Baptist Church, and the benediction was given by the Rev.William Vaughan Jr. of Bartlett Methodist Church.
In 1967 the population of Bartlett was approximately 1,000 people. During the 1970s the library was used extensively with circulation growing substantially each year. By 1978 approximately 11,000 books were being checked out each month, or about 425 books per day.
By the late 1970s the population of Bartlett had grown to 17,000 and the library could not adequately serve the expanding community. More space was needed. A new Bartlett Library was approved to be constructed on land donated by the City of Bartlett and paid for by Shelby County at a cost of $603,800. The 13,500-square-foot building included a main reading room, a meeting room accommodating 100 people, a librarian’s office, a workroom and a staff lounge. It housed 75,000 volumes and patrons had inter-library access to all 1,200,000 volumes housed by the total Shelby County system. The location was at 6382 Stage Road, and it was part of a comprehensive plan for governmental facilities. A fire station and recreation facilities were completed in 1979 and plans were underway for a new City Hall. (The building is currently the City Annex Building.) The dedication ceremony was on Sept. 7, 1980, and C. Lamar Wallis, director of libraries, presided. The dedication was given by Carl R. Olsen, president of the Library Board of Trustees. Those providing remarks included Yates and Carolyn Gates, Shelby County commissioner. Ms. Lafaye Cobb was the librarian.
In 1981 there was an article in The Bartlett Express that the Friends of the Library will hold an organization meeting on Oct. 13 at the Bartlett Library. The topics for discussion included volunteer services in the library and development of the library’s Bartlett history. Jim Johnson, head of the history department at the main library, was present to discuss how the branch and main library can work together to further develop the local history section of the library. (The Friends of the Library information will be later in this article series.)
Also in 1981 the sale of the former Bartlett Library building at 5803 Stage Road to Mr. Richard Wells for $126,500 was approved by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners. Mr. Wells was the owner of Bartlett Pharmacy, which was located next door (west) to the old library building. Wells said he planned to rent the building but had made no definite arrangements. There have been several businesses in that building over the years, and today, in 2016, it is the Bartlett Funeral Home.
See more information about Bartlett’s library history in two weeks. (There will not be a column for the Sept. 8 issue because of the Labor Day holiday.)
Sources: Historic Memphis website, Library archives, The Commercial Appeal, The Bartlett Express, The Raleigh-Bartlett Star.
Written by Suzanne Griffith Coleman, Special to the Express.