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A History of the Library

Written by Pat Scott and Norman Cooper, January 1999

Dreams of starting a local library in Union County began in the early 1930's. The committee, which included Mrs. Edith Paris, met in the home of Mrs. N.G. Camp. While specific dates and events during the early days of establishing a library are scarce, research has found that Book No. 877 was processed in January 1939.

The books obtained were originally housed in the old courthouse, upstairs in the judge's chambers. When court convened, however, those books had to be moved downstairs to a room in attorney Jack Tarpley's office. This event happened approximately twice a year and often members of the 4-H Club were called upon to complete the task.

Eventually, the books remained downstairs until the early 1960's when a need for space at the courthouse prompted another move. Mrs. Louise Butt became caretaker of the books at the high school, where she was the librarian. In 1966 Miss Addie Kate Reid was instrumental in relocating the library to the Paris Building by Merchant's Walk. (That building has since been moved.)

During President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, funds to establish a library came from the W.P.A., as well as the County Ordinary ($10 a month) and patrons themselves. Early book donors include the names Longworth, Cook, and Hill.

Bake sales and box suppers were used as fund raisers and the library board showed a film in the courtroom on Saturday nights for ten cents admission.

When the Civic Center opened in 1970, the library moved into a 20x20 square-foot room and was open to the public for a few hours, two or three days a week.
Early librarians were Miss Bessie Miller, Mrs. Georgia Miller, Ed Reed, Mrs. Tolar, and Addie Kate Reid. Although the library now resided in the Civic Center and housed about 6,000 volumes, unimproved roads made it difficult for many people to reach it. One photo exists of Mayor Doris Colwell with her personal jeep, pressed into service as the first unofficial bookmobile because the jeep had the ability to ford streams and maneuver along bad roads. Ms. Colwell would pick up Ms. Connie Lowe and Ms. Roxanne Austin and they would drive books to the schools. Not until years later was an official vehicle purchased for this purpose.

The need for a permanent, larger facility was apparent during the mid-1980's.

After more than three years of planning and work, the Union County Library opened its doors at its current location on Feburary 6, 1989, with Ms. Wilma Ash appointed as librarian.

The 12-year old brick building on the 1.27-acre lot consists of 6,468 square feet and was purchased from Union County Bank for $240,000. (A second floor exists in the building, but cannot be used due to access and fire safety restrictions.) With the cost of construction, renovation, fees, furnishings, equipment, and materials, the total to buy and convert the facility into a library was slightly more than $400,000. A majority of that money was provided from state funds, which were combined with local funds of approximately $40,000 from the Board of Education, the Union County Commissioner's office, Union County Bank, and the City of Blairsville.

Involved in collective implementation were Joe Forsee, Jimmy Tallent, Ray Farley, LaVon Butt, Glenn Gooch, Earl Odom, Charles Allison, and Helen Kimsey.

A portrait of benefactor Dwight Cowles was unveiled during the Open House for the facility in 1989. That portrait today hangs on the wall just inside the entrance. Mr. Cowles was a childless widower who donated his mountain retirement home to the library board to sell, specifically to finance the purchase of children's books and other materials for the library. The home was sold completely furnished (including sheets on the beds and sugar in the bowls) to Mr. John and Mrs. Chloe Naves.

The couple agreed to pay $36,000 for their "dream home" minutes after viewing the two-bedroom cottage. Mr. Cowles bought a new home for himself a short distance away from the cottage, and a strong friendship developed. The Naves eventually sold the first home and moved to Mr. Cowles' second home shortly after his demise, which, ironically, happened prior to the opening of the new facility in 1989.

Union County Library listed approximately 17,000 volumes in 1993, which increased to more than 24,000 volumes in 1998. Since the library relocated to its present facility, circulation and attendance have increased more than 200 percent. According to the figures, circulation in 1998 reached 98,646 and attendance reached 48,243.

During the 1998 summer reading program, 288 children read 6,904 books.

Union County Library is a branch of the Mountain Regional Library System, which includes the counties of Union, Towns, and Fannin.

We love our public library!