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Lancaster County Library

The history of library service in Lancaster County goes back to 1771 when the Reverend William Richardson, first licensed pastor of Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church, left 300 pounds sterling for the purchase of religious books for the use of the poor people of the settlement.

The history of the present Lancaster County Library began in 1904 when a group of Lancaster women known as the Franklin Circle sponsored the organization of the Lancaster County Library Association. During the next twenty years the library led a precarious existence, supported by subscription and donations, moved repeatedly and occasionally closed. In 1924 the library secured quarters in the new county office building but two years later it was closed because of lack of funds. The Lancaster Literary Review Club, with the consent of the old Library Association, reopened the library on February 4, 1929. Under the auspices of the Literary Review Club, the library grew and prospered. In 1934 this club felt that the time was right to place the library in the hands of a board composed of members selected from various civic organizations in the county and this board was appointed. In 1936 with, the idea of ensuring financial support and continuity, the County Legislative Delegation, with the cooperation of the County Board of Education, established the library as a part of the county school system. While the public library was a part of the county school system, a fireproof library building was erected on the northeast corner of Gay and South French Streets. In February of 1937 the Literary Review Club sponsored the opening of the new building. In recognition of the two clubs which had worked so diligently for so many years to secure and maintain public library service in Lancaster, a bronze plaque bearing the names of the founders was placed in the library entrance. After the library was open, busts of Lancaster County's two most famous sons, Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States, and Dr. J. Marion Sims, world famous surgeon, were placed in the library.

Shortly after the new headquarters library was opened in 1937, the Kelsey Library on East Barr Street became a branch of the county library. The library was named for the late Harvey Kelsey, a prominent black and a native of Chester County who had donated over 6,000 books to the branch.

In 1959 the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce set up a library subcommittee with Mrs. Ben C. Hough as its chairman and charged the committee with the duty of investigating the library situation and making recommendations for its improvement. The committee made a thorough investigation and recommended that the library be separated from the school system and, secondly, that a new library building be erected. In 1960 an act passed by the legislature legally established the Lancaster County Library as a separate county agency. A Board of nine trustees representing all sections of the county was appointed to govern the library system. The new Board adopted as its major objectives employing a graduate librarian and erecting a new library building. The first objective was realized with the employment of Miss Pat Mercer, who joined the staff in 1965. It took longer to realize the second objective. The T.Y. Williams property was selected as a suitable site for the library. A building and planning committee was appointed and this committee engaged A.G. Odell and Associates of Charlotte to make a preliminary study of the site and building needs. When the study was completed a new library building containing 15,000 square feet and costing approximately $350,000 was recommended. The City of Lancaster, which owned the Williams property, agreed to lease the lot at $1.00 as long as the library would need it. The building was financed through an appropriation of $150,000 from the county, a grant from the State Library of $75,000 in Federal funds under its administration, local donations of $31,143 which were matched by the Elliot Springs Foundation on the basis of $4.00 for each $1.00 raised by public subscription. Construction was begun in the fall of 1969 and the building was completed and dedicated on September 13, 1970.

The new building had been opened only a few months when Perry Belle Hough (Mrs. Ben C.), member of the Board and Chairman, 1943-45, leader of the campaign for funds for the new building in 1970 and to whom the Caroliniana Room had been dedicated, died, leaving many books and materials on Lancaster County history and genealogy to the Lancaster County Library. In her memory the microfilm census records of Lancaster County and other counties in the state were donated to the library.

The new library building made it possible to extend the hours of service. Service was further improved through the purchase of a new bookmobile to serve inter-city and rural bookmobile routes. Participating in both State Aid and in Federal funds under the administration of the State Library, the library was able to add additional services and to improve existing services. An outreach program was under taken to provide service to those people who found it difficult to come to the library or make use of its services. The book collection was expanded through the addition of microfilm and audiovisual materials.

On June 26, 1979 the Lancaster County Council, in compliance with the new Home Rule legislation, passed Ordinance No. 44, legally establishing the Lancaster County Library system.

Board Chairmen
Joe C. Plyler, Lancaster, 1946-56
Roy Falkenberry, Heath Springs, 1956-60
A.Z.F. Wood, Lancaster, 1960-63
DeWitt Plyler, Lancaster, 1963-68
Mrs. Walter Heath, Lancaster, 1968-71
Frank S. Keene, Lancaster, 1971-73
Robert P. Perry, Lancaster, 1973-75
Elizabeth Wilson, Lancaster, 1975-77
R.H. Collins, Lancaster, 1977-79
Lafayette B. Belk, Lancaster, 1979

Mrs. J. Randolph Kelsey, 1944-45
Robbie Horton, 1945-60
Mrs. Paul M. Belk, 1960-63
Patricia Mercer, 1963-69
Mrs. Pat Belk, 1969-70
Melinda Brockman, 1970-76
(Mrs. Charles Elliott Kane)
Mrs. Ann Burton Henderson, 1976-77
Richard Band, 1977-

Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp. 34-35.


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