The Chester County Free Library was opened in 1903 with funds donated by Dr. Delano S. Fitzgerald, a Baltimore physician who came to Chester County during the winter to hunt. Grateful to the local people for their hospitality, he wanted to do something for the community.
The library consisted of a one-room wooden building which was located seven and a half miles from Chester in Lowrys, South Carolina. Dr. Fitzgerald also donated 1,381 books from his personal collection. A handwritten list shows the collection included a Bible, a dictionary, a set of encyclopedias, and copies of the novels of Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott. Popular magazines such as Ladies Home Journal were also included in the collection.
Generally, services offered by libraries in the early twentieth century were limited to the people who lived in the town or village. Chester County was one of the few counties which made an effort to provide library services to the rural areas.
The People's Free Library brought limited services to the surrounding countryside by a mule drawn wagon carrying wooden boxes of books. Marion County had a similiar wagon in 1913. One of the boxes is shown on the left.
Walter Bankhead, a local farmer, was hired by Dr. Fitzgerald to make monthly rounds of the county. The route consisted of twenty-two stops where Mr. Bankhead would leave a wooden box containing approximately two dozen books.
Today ten of these boxes have survived. Five boxes remain at the People's Free Library, four are in the Chester County Library, and one is located in the South Carolina State Library. This forerunner to today's bookmobile was started about 1904 and is thought to possibly be the first "bookmobile" in the United States. More information concerning Chester County Free Public Library is given in Estellene P. Walker's short history.
Even in rural areas the library had rules that were well-enforced. (Click on the document to the right to enlarge itó114KB file.)
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