Timrod Library history revisited by Preservation Society

  • Friday, May 2, 2014

Stefan Rogenmoser/Journal Scene The Catherine Stewart Room was added on in 1985.

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For a majority of the 20th Century, it was the only library in Summerville. The Henry Timrod Library opened in 1915 on Central Avenue. The Dorchester County public library opened in 1979.

Timrod Library board members spoke of its history to the Preservation Society of Summerville April 24 at the Old Town Hall building on West Carolina Avenue.

Summerville Preservation Society President Heyward Hutson said the preservation society and Timrod Library share many members.

The library was named after the unofficial poet laureate of the Confederacy.

The library is a private non-profit and depends on volunteers, donations, membership fees and the generosity of friends to keep its doors open.

“We need to keep in touch with what is special,” Timrod Library President Howard Bridgman said. “It will be missed when it’s gone.”

The library has 25,000 volumes in its collection. Books are marked with a silver or gold sticker. The gold collection means the books are from before 1929. The silver collection is anything published after 1930.

“The Timrod was the first place I discovered when I moved to Summerville,” Timrod board member Cathy Englehardt said. “I’ve had lots of fun looking up extra things.”

Timrod died young of tuberculosis. “Ethnogenesis” was his most popular of the war songs, Englehardt said. It is possible that Timrod tutored in the area, but there is no documentation, according to Englehardt. That may be why it was decided to name the library after him.

She said the library’s mascot “Timmy” is a sculpture that was once part of a sundial made in 1929.

It began as a social library with a small membership fee. These were often the only libraries in a small town. Many did not survive, but the Timrod did. The state once had 34 library societies. Two survived – one in Charleston and the Timrod.

In 1898 there were 34 library societies in the state. By 1930 only 15 remained.

Timing, character and place helped the Timrod survive, Englehardt said.

“Location has a lot to do with the success of this particular entity,” she said. “Summerville held a very unique position.”

There was a burgeoning of information on literature and science after the Civil War. In the 1890s Summerville became a center for healing lung diseases, especially tuberculosis. The air, soil, flowers and therapeutic pine trees were a main draw.

“It was like planting the seeds of intellect with the people who came here,” Englehardt said.

The Chautauqua Reading Circle morphed into the Timrod Library. Englehardt showed the minutes of many of the group’s meetings (including entries from 1908 to 1917), adding that they were diligent in their studies for reading books about imperial Germany and Roman life.

The circle debated issues like “pain is a blessing” and “luxury is an evil.” They discussed chemical science, the growth of electricity, and whether it was wrong to wear birds on their hats.

Early fundraisers included ice cream socials and bridge parties.

“We’re really just continuing this activity of supporting ourselves,” Englehardt said.

In 1909 the Chautauqua Reading Circle received an Encyclopedia Britannica and a donation of $100 toward its building project. By 1911 plans were drawn. In 1913 there was a special meeting for the building.

A total of $2,300 was charged for the library. In 1908 the estimated cost was $14,000. The library requested to install a small box in the Pine Forest Inn for collection donations and memberships.

In 1926 the library had its first real librarian. Fees were $15 for the three winter months and $5 per month the rest of the year. On some cold days the library had to remain closed because there was not enough wood to burn in the fire place to keep the building warm.

In 1926 bonds were issued. Many were never redeemed by the bond holders to the benefit of the library.

When the Great Depression hit in 1929 the library received $10 a month from Summerville for help. It became part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects.

In 1945 the library used a letter drive to recruit 200 new members. They also hosted American Red Cross meetings.

In 1949 a small George Washington Carver branch of the library was opened for ethnic minorities. Several attendees at the meeting discussed and pondered where this library was located, but nobody knew.

By 1950 the Timrod was debt-free. In 1979 it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1985 the Catherine Stewart Room was added on. It blends into the original building. This cost $32,976. Bricks were donated by Salisbury, Berlin Myers provided building supplies and WestVaco provided timber.

In 1979 the Town of Summerville included the Timrod as “notable” in its commissioned report of historic places. The report stated it “contributes notably to the architectural significance of the town” and it “attributed to Summerville’s attraction as a unique area.”

“We treasure this building and all it represents,” Englehardt said. “In 2015 the building will be 100 years old. We plan to celebrate.”

The library has a newly-donated display case to show special items from its archives.

“I found the library because I’m very well traveled and poorly educated,” Peach Boswell said after the discussion. “My dad was always a reader. He mostly read who-done-its. He put a circle with a cross in the back after he read it.

“The Timrod is my place to go when I have no place to go. We have encyclopedias. Not everyone has a computer, like me.

“It was my introduction to Summerville. My home away from home.”

“Most people don’t know the community effort that went into it and how the funds were raised by selling cookies,” Hutson said.

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