Chester County Free Public Library

Library service in Chester County owes its beginning to the Palmetto Literary Club organized in 1898. Mrs. G.B. White, President of the club, was keenly interested in the establishment of a community library. When she and a group of club women from Chester returned from the organizational meeting of the South Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs, their first objective was the organization of a public library. In August of 1898 the Palmetto Club and the Up-to-Date Club organized the Chester Library Association. A year later in 1900 the library became a reality. It had a ready-made home waiting for it in a large second floor room of the City Hall overlooking the town square. When the Chester City Hall was erected in 1892, Giles J. Patterson, an attorney at law and a farsighted citizen had incorporated in the charter a provision that adequate space be designated for use as a public library for Chester. The first librarian was Mrs. Julian Sloan. She instilled into the boys and girls of that day a love for good reading and a taste for good literature.

About 1921 interest in the library lagged and it was closed for a time. The Chamber of Commerce finally came to the rescue and kept it open for a year. Then the club women under the leadership of Mrs. T.S. Leitner took it over. Twelve clubs in Chester banded together to support the library. Mrs. S.E. (Ethel Means) McFadden was appointed librarian and continued in that position until her retirement thirty years later.

In 1929 the City Hall was destroyed by fire. Many valuable books and documents were burned. Of the library's collection only about 700 volumes which were in circulation at the time of the fire were saved. A temporary home for the library was secured in the Chester County Courthouse where it remained until new quarters in the rebuilt City Hall were ready for occupancy in 1930. To the original space allotted to the library was added a room for children's services and storage space.

In 1931 the citizens of the Chester School District, in the midst of the Great Depression, voted to tax themselves an additional one-half mill to support the library. Part of the tax went to establish and support a branch for Blacks housed in the Finley High School.

With the assistance of the WPA State-Wide Library Project, a bookmobile was put on the road in Chester County in 1938. The WPA furnished assistance with personnel, equipment, supplies, and books.

In 1946 the Chester County Library was established through the unification of the Chester Free Library and the Chester County Circulating Library. In 1950, the entire first floor of the new and modern War Memorial Building was allocated to the use of the library as county library headquarters. The library's space was carefully planned and provided space for adults, a special room for children, and for the library's valuable South Carolina Collection.

The Chester County Library has a large branch library in Great Falls which occupies a handsome new library building constructed in 1975-76. The building was dedicated on February 15, 1976. The Lowrys Branch was discontinued in 1954 due to dwindling circulation and the Finley Branch was closed upon the integration of library service.

Chester County Library serves as a community cultural center. It has made its facilities available for displays of art, sculpture, ceramics, flowers, and handicrafts. During Army maneuvers in World War II it provided a recreational center for soldiers stationed in the area. In 1950 the library had as its guest four German librarians from the Information Center Libraries of Germany. They were brought to the United States to study the State Library Board's program of library development and Chester was chosen to study because of the fine new library building, bookmobile, and its services to rural communities.

No history of library service in Chester County can be complete without an account of the Lowrys Library. In the early 1900's Dr. Delano Fitzgerald, a Baltimore physician, who for many years had spent his winters in Lowrysville, wished to contribute something to the town where he had passed so many pleasant months. He donated the library in 1904 which was the first free library in Chester County. It was named the "People's Free Library of South Carolina."

A small pretty building was built and furnished completely with book shelves, tables and chairs, and supplied with a collection of 1,381 books. Subscriptions to leading magazines were made and a librarian employed. Dr. Fitzgerald bore all of the expenses of the establishment and operation. In order to make the books more widely available, twenty-two strong cabinets were constructed which held several dozen books. These book boxes were distributed by horse and buggy once a month to homes and schools of the county. This early rural circulating system was one of the first in the country.

The Lowrys Library was closed for several years until the Chester County Library was established. At that time it became a branch of the county library system. Dwindling circulation caused the branch to be closed in 1954 and the books were transferred to the Chester County Library. The little Lowrys Library building has been restored and is kept in good repair although it is no longer used to house library service.

Board Chairmen
L.C. Berry, Lowrys, 1946-55
H. Robert Woods, Jr., Chester, 1955-61
Harry Abernathy, Great Falls, 1961-62; 1972-76
Charles B. Abell, Lowrys, 1962-64
Wade Revels, Great Falls, 1964-65
John Brantley, Chester, 1965-66
Mrs. Cortland D. Leigh, Chester, 1966-72
Milburn Richburg, Chester, 1976-78
Conway Carter, Chester, 1978-

Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), p18.

A note on the text

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