Note: The following is one of a series of columns looking at places and events of interest in Bulloch County history.
In 1797, the Georgia Library Club was formed, creating the nucleus of what became the Georgia Library Association. Across the nation, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie began building 1,700 new public libraries in smaller American cities, including Savannah.
The next major step in the creation of Georgia libraries was when Mrs. Eugene Heard donated her private collection to form the “Seaboard Air Line Railroad Traveling Library” in 1899. Its headquarters were at the Heard's plantation, “Rose Hill.”
Operating between 1900 and about 1930, the Seaboard Traveling Library served six states, and actually had a branch library in its Savannah shop. The Seaboard would send collections of books to any community served by the railroad that could be picked up at its station for use in schools or by individuals.
In 1911, the Statesboro Civic League opened its “Membership Library,” of which little else is known. In 1925, the Statesboro Woman’s League’s Education Committee opened a library in City Hall. The secretary of Statesboro’s City Recorder was asked to maintain the collection, but over time much of the collection disappeared.
According to the 1915 Educational Survey of Bulloch County, Brooklet High School had no library, Portal High had a small reference library, Ewell's Park and Jimps School had small libraries, while Tyson's Grove had 30 books. Bird School had 40 books, both Register and Stilson libraries had 50 books, the Brannen Institute had 75, and the Bragg School library had 150 books in their collection.
The Southeastern and Southwestern (United States) Library Associations decided in the mid-1930s that “regional libraries” were the libraries of the future for rural areas. A study showed that in Georgia libraries did not serve 71 percent of the population.
A Regional Library Committee was formed in Statesboro, headed up by Mrs. Fred Hodges, Mrs. Alfred Dorman, Mrs. Howell Cone and Mrs. Brooks Simmons. They enlisted the help of local Parent Teacher Association groups, and in no time at all had raised some $11,000. Learning of this, the Bulloch County Commission and the Bulloch County Board of Education each donated another $1,000.
In 1933, the Civil Works Administration began putting people to work as the “Great Depression” devastated America's economy. Beginning in 1936, the Works Progress Administration (later the Works Project Administration) funded many library projects in an effort to increase the literacy rates in the deep south.
As a result of their assistance, free libraries were begun in 107 Georgia counties, and the number of people in Georgia with no access to public libraries dropped from 71 percent to 36 percent. The WPA also began the first “traveling libraries” in 1938 which soon served most of rural Georgia small communities.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. E-mail Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.