Colleton County Memorial Library

Walterboro Library

Walterboro, South Carolina

The Colleton County Memorial Library was established through the consolidation of two libraries, the historic Walterboro Library Society and the Colleton County Library.

Library service in Colleton County has a long and distinguished history. The Walterboro Library Society was founded in 1820 by the wealthy planters who made Walterboro their home. These men sent their sons to England or to the Continent to complete their education and these young men, returning, wished to see the same degree of culture maintained in their own country that they had enjoyed in Europe.

Much of Walterboro's past history has its setting in the quaint little library building, Georgian in architecture, with small-paned windows, fan-shaped transoms, and hand-hewn sills. In 1824 when the Court of Equity ordered the village of Walterboro to be laid out, the surveyor was instructed to fix the boundaries of the village as "three-fourths of a mile in every direction from the Walterboro Library." It is significant that the leaders of the community established the library before incorporating their town and that they used the library as the central point in measuring the town's perimeter.

When established, the library had a handsome book collection bound in full calf with the name "Walterboro Library Society" printed in gold letters on the binding. The size of the volume determined the length of time it could be kept out of the library. A folio could be kept out six weeks; a quarto volume four weeks; octavo, two weeks and a duo decimo only one week.

In 1836 the first library organization disbanded, turned its building over to the town and distributed its books among the members. Thirty years later when the library was reorganized, many of the original volumes were returned still in good condition.

War and reconstruction took their toll of the library and it was not until 1888 that Miss Claudia Stuart, a teacher in the Walterboro school, came to the rescue. The library was reopened, flourished for a while and then went the way of the others. In 1920, exactly one hundred years after its organization, the Walterboro Library Society again became an active organization. This time the sponsors were the ladies of the Walterboro Book Club. Miss Millie Fraser was employed as librarian and served in that capacity for many years. In 1925 the Town of Walterboro provided tax support for the library and in 1936 Colleton County began appropriating funds for its maintenance.

The Colleton County Library was established in 1935 through the combined efforts of the WPA, the guidance of Mrs. Isabel Heaton, then County Home Demonstration Agent, and the sponsorship of the County Council of Farm Women.

During a two-year period, 1935-37, the Home Demonstration Agent and the County WPA supervisors took library books around the county in their own cars to various communities talking with groups and individuals to introduce the library and its services. Library books were few and these were secured through a WPA grant.

In January of 1937 Colleton and Dorchester counties combined to form a bi-county library governed by a library board of eight measures--four from each county. In November of 1939 the delegations from Colleton and Dorchester counties appropriated funds to purchase a bookmobile for use in both counties.

As the WPA program was curtailed, funds decreased each year. It was at this time that Dorchester County withdrew from the bi-county arrangement. To continue library service in Colleton County, the County Delegation provided an initial $1,000 for operating expenses and eventually in 1943 sponsored legislation establishing the Colleton Rural Library and providing for its support through a three-quarter mill tax on county property.

In 1948 the library employed its first full-time professional librarian, Marguerite Grambling, later Mrs. Ralph Thompson. With her leadership the library program flourished and the library grew to such an extent that the need for additional space for books, staff and readers became pressing. With the backing of the Farm Women's Council, a movement began for a new library building. Although initially there was no idea of combining the Walterboro Library Society and the Colleton County Library, as time passed the people of Colleton County realized that this was the only way to go.

It was no easy matter to bring about the consolidation of the two libraries but it was accomplished. The law establishing the Colleton County Memorial Library through the consolidation of the old Library Society and the Colleton County Library was enacted in April of 1955. The library operated under this law until 1979 at which time, in compliance with new Home Rule legislation, the County Council passed an ordinance establishing the library.

A new building housing service for the entire county and providing for the safekeeping of the valuable materials from the Walterboro Library Society was constructed and dedicated in 1957.

Under Mrs. Thompson's direction the library became a part of the life of almost everyone in Colleton County. Special programs were planned for special groups and no effort was spared to develop the library's full potential of service to its community.

In November, 1963, the Colleton County Memorial Library was awarded a Dorothy Canfield Fisher Memorial Award of $1,000. The award was made on the basis of service to the reading public and plans for the expansion of the library program.

From 1963 until the present the director of the Colleton County Library has been Mrs. Lila Ward Smoak. Under Mrs. Smoak's direction the library has grown in every direction. Its book circulation is one of the highest in the state. Bookmobile services have been continually expanded and the use of reference and research services is steadily increasing. One of the new projects initiated under Mrs. Smoak's direction is an oral history collection.

In 1979 the Board of the Colleton County Library was successful in securing funds from the County Delegation to enlarge the usable space in the library by remodeling the garage for a Department of Technical Processing. The Board also was successful in organizing an active Friends of the Library group. The Board and the librarian continue to work with County Council in an effort to bring the best library service that the county can afford to all who live within the county.

No history of library service in Colleton County can be concluded without a tribute to three women whose dedication to books and reading and devotion to the people of the county helped to establish and maintain library service through all vicissitudes. Miss Amelia Fraser (Miss Millie) was appointed librarian of the Walterboro Library Society in 1920 and served in that capacity and later as reference librarian of the Colleton County Library until her retirement in 1970. Miss Millie's interest in books and in the history of Colleton County and the state was the foundation on which the library's fine South Carolina collection was built. Miss Mary D. Rich, with experience in the academic field both as professor and as a college administrator, made a valuable contribution to the establishment of the Colleton County Library and to the extension of library service in rural areas of the county. Mrs. Elma S. Rogers, a professional librarian, used her energy and enthusiasm to foster the idea of public library service throughout the county and was instrumental in the establishment of county library service. As a WPA Library Supervisor in the late 1930's, Mrs. Rogers used her car and much of her time to carry books into all parts of rural Colleton County and to introduce rural people to books. Mrs. Rogers has been on the County Library Board since its establishment. Her interest and community influence have done much to strengthen and improve the public library program both in Colleton County and in the state.

Board Chairmen
R.A. Durham, Walterboro, 1946-49
C. Moye Padgett, Walterboro, 1949-76
Mrs. John I. Rogers, Walterboro, 1976

Mrs. Walton B. Smith, 1944-47
Mrs. Marguerite G. Thompson, 1947-61
Mrs. G Clinton Williams, 1969-70
Lila W. Morley (Mrs. Wightman Smoak), 1962-69; 1970-

Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), p. 21-22.

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