Dorchester County Library

photograph of Dorchester County Library

Public library service in Dorchester County had its origin in libraries operated by book clubs in the towns of Summerville and St. George. In October, 1897 a group of Summerville girls organized a reading club which eventually resulted in the Timrod Library. The library was supported by subscriptions, donations and money made from club projects. The library grew and in 1915 an attractive little brick building was erected. In 1927 an addition of a spacious room and kitchen was added to the building. With neither endowment nor appropriation it was a hard struggle to keep the library in operation. However, this was accomplished and the Timrod Library still operates in Summerville as a subscription library. The Thursday Afternoon Book Club of St. George was organized in 1914 and books bought with club dues exchanged among members and finally made into a collection to be loaned to the public. The library occupied makeshift quarters and moved many times. During the Depression, the WPA Library Project furnished two workers which made it possible to keep the library open every day. When WPA assistance was withdrawn the county appropriated funds to pay the librarian's salary and to keep the library open for a few hours each day. The State Library Board provided a book deposit service of 100 books exchanged every quarter to enrich the collection and to provide a variety of materials for the local reader.

It was about this time in the late 1940's that Miss Ophelia Barker, the County Home Demonstration Agent, decided to concentrate her considerable energy and interest towards the objective of establishing the Dorchester County Library. Miss Barker called on the South Carolina State Library Board for help in explaining and publicizing the need for county-wide library service in Dorchester County. She took a member of the State Library's staff with her to meet with each of her local women's groups to explain what a county library could offer the individual and the community. The County Council of Farm Women endorsed the project. With the leadership of Senator J.D. Parler funds were appropriated and a county library program established in June 1953.

To promote better library service for everyone in the county, the Thursday Afternoon Book Club of St. George, which had been operating a public library for the town for many years, merged with the county library and turned over its entire book collection for use throughout the system. This generous action on the part of the club made it possible to provide a better level of library service throughout the county than would otherwise have been possible. Mrs. Mary H. Blume, who had been librarian of the St. George library, joined the staff of the county library.

Although the Timrod Library in Summerville did not become a full participant in the system, the bookmobile visited Timrod once a month to exchange twenty-five of the 200 books the county library had on deposit there.

From the time the county library was established in 1953 until 1962, Senator J.D. Parler served as acting chairman of the board to be sure that the county library lived up to the expectations of the Delegation. In 1962, the Dorchester County Library Board was legally established with Admiral Ellis Reed-Hill as Chairman. More adequate quarters for the library were secured in a good location. With the legal establishment of the library and with adequate quarters, Mrs. Emily M. Reeves, the first county librarian, resigned to return to the teaching profession. In her place the Board of Trustees appointed Mrs. E.0. McMahan, Jr. Under Mrs. McMahan's direction the library continued to grow and to expand its services throughout the county.

In January 1966 the library was moved to special quarters located in the Dorchester County Courthouse. The new quarters were attractively furnished and well-equipped. A new bookmobile was purchased in 1967 replacing the 1953 vehicle and providing a much larger book capacity. The library remained in the Courthouse from January 1966 through June 1976. By this time, with a book collection of 26,000 volumes and a circulation of over 37,000, quarters were too crowded to allow for further growth and improvement. The Board realized that an adequate headquarters library building was the only solution and with this in mind purchased a site which would eventually accommodate the new building.

George H. Seago, Jr. was elected Chairman of the Board in 1976 and led a vigorous campaign for improving county library service. The first objective was to bring local support to $1.30 per capita in order to qualify for LSCA grants and expand service to the lower county. At the same time plans were made for two library buildings, the headquarters library in St. George and a branch in Summerville. The County Council's budget for 1977-78 included approved funding for both.

Many changes occurred in the county library during fiscal 76-77. The headquarters library moved into the old St. George Elementary School building to wait out the construction of the new headquarters building. A branch library was opened in Summerville in temporary quarters. At this time the county library had less than one book per capita and the crying need was for books to stock the new headquarters building and the branch in Summerville. Five LSCA grants were made during 1977 and all were directed towards alleviating this book shortage.

Dorchester County was the first county in South Carolina to fund construction of two library buildings at the same time and without benefit of either federal or state funds. The Summerville Branch Library was completed in May of 1979 and the headquarters in St. George in June of the same year. Both libraries were dedicated September 29, 1979.

Operation in the new facilities has brought renewed interest in public library service to Dorchester County citizens. Circulation has risen to over 100,000. Special programs involving films, story hours for children, special exhibits, and cultural programs are provided as well as the usual public library services. With the two handsome new library buildings, an enthusiastic public, and a rapidly expanding population, the Dorchester County Library looks forward to even greater achievements in meeting library needs in the future.

Board Chairmen
Senator J.D. Parler, St. George, 1952-60
Senator H.H. Jessen, Summerville, 1960-61
Admiral Ellis Reed-Hill, Summerville, 1961-74
Mrs. J. Olin Horne, St. George, 1974-75
George H. Seago, Jr., Summerville, 1975-

Mrs. Emily Reeves, 1953-61
Mrs. E.0. McMahan, Jr., 1961-

Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia, South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp. 24-25.

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