“For the Advancement of Learning”

Sixty Years of Service in the Pittsylvania County Library

By Helen D. Melton

Pittsylvania County Library

The 1990 Pittsylvania County Library building.

On August 31, 1999, the Pittsylvania County Library celebrated its 60th birthday, however there has been a library in Chatham since 1913, eighty-six years ago. No records of the early library exists but Mrs. Langhorne Jones (Gertrude) and Mrs. Reginald Kenney (Anna) remember borrowing books as children from the collection housed in a large room above Thompson's Drug Store (now M&W Flowers) on Main Street. Local citizens first donated books from their libraries to begin the venture, which was open several afternoons a week and staffed by volunteers.

By 1929 the Chatham Library Association boasted 1500 books in its collection. Miss Reba Ramsey was serving as librarian and officers had been named. Mrs. Jones was President; Mrs. Hattie Fitzgerald, Secretary; and Mrs. W. E. Allen, Treasurer.

As a result of a statewide project of Home Demonstration Clubs, library committees were formed and community libraries were established in Hurt, Weal, and Callands. Each club purchased at least one book or subscribed to one magazine and borrowed books for circulation from the Extension Division of the University of Virginia, the Virginia Library Association and the Danville City Library.

Earlier this year one of the books from that era was checked out and the following was pasted on its frontispiece.

No. 1 Residents of the town of Chatham may obtain books at the Library by the payment of $1.00 per year or 15 cents per month. Book must be returned in eight days unless renewed and no book may be renewed but one time.

No. 2 A fee of five cents per single book will be charged resident non-members of the Library.

No. 3 A fine of five cents per single book will be charged for books kept over two weeks unless renewed.

No. 4 A fine will be imposed for “all making turning of leaves” and defacing of books.

No. 5 Each person entitled to draw books from the Library will be given a card which must be presented when books are taken out.

No. 6 The privileges of the Library shall be frfeited until all fines and claim for damages are paid.

No. 7 Books shall not be exchanged outside of Library.

No. 8 One week limit on new books until 3 months old.

In 1938, Mr. and Mrs. David Bruce indicated their desire to donate a library equipped with books to Pittsylvania County. The main provisions stated that the Board of Supervisors must provide a satisfactory site, allocate appropriate annual funding for its operation and secure a trained librarian. At this time, the Chatham Rotary Club and the members of the Federation of Women's Clubs, spearheaded by Mrs. Nathaniel Clement (Maude) and Mrs. J. Hurt Whitehead, stepped in to provide a joint effort that would assure the project's success.

Realizing the importance of a county library, the Board of Supervisors accepted this generous offer and moved to establish and maintain (with help from the school board) the free public library system in Pittsylvania County.

The Bruce family gave money for several Southside Virginia county libraries including those in Halifax and Patrick Counties. Edmonds History of Halifax County identifies the family thusly: David's grandfather was James Bruce, the third millionaire in America, who built Berry Hill Plantation in Halifax County for his son in 1841 and set out to establish a dynasty in Southside Virginia. James first married Sarah Coles, daughter of Walter Coles of Coles Hill. Upon her death, he married Elvira Cabell Henry, the widow of Patrick Henry, Jr. Without formal education, James nevertheless would become a trustee of Hampton-Sydney College for two decades. His grandson, David, who died in 1977, was called the greatest ambassador since Benjamin Franklin having served as ambassador to three super powers: Great Britain, France, and West Germany. The Bruce family still has roots in Southside Virginia, owning an estate near Red Hill, Virginia.

Judge Turner Clement appointed a board of Trustees to manage and direct library affairs that would meet State requirements. The first trustees were E.B. Fitzgerald, Gretna; Mrs. George Moore, Callands; Mrs. James S. Jones, Chatham; and Dr. E.J. Lee of Chatham Hall. F.B. Watson, Superintendent of Schools served as an ex officio member.

A site on South Main Street adjacent to the Chatham Elementary School was chosen and construction went foward on the $16,000 building that would house two segregated reading rooms for adults together with a children's reading room on the second floor as well as offices and storage space. Furnishings, fixtures and books (4,536) plus 25 magazine subscriptions added an additional $6,000 in costs.

Old Chatham Library

1939 Pittsylvania County Library building.

The library opened Wednesday, August 30,1939. It was staffed by Miss Florence Fowlkes, who held a degree in library science from the University of North Carolina. With daily hours (Monday through Saturday) from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., it soon received a gift from the Chatham Library Association of its collection of more than 1500 books. Another gift included more than 700 books from the library of Mrs. Martha byrd Banford of West Virginia (a friend and frequent houseguest of Mrs. H.T. Cunningham).

Mrs. Anna Hyatt Huntington, sculptor, presented a magnificent piece of her work entitled Charioteers and Horses to the library for the enjoyment of its patrons. Sited in the main area, it has recently been restored by a conservator. This gift came through Chatham resident, Richard Reid, a friend of Mrs. Huntington and her husband, Archer Milton Huntington, patrons of the arts as well as philanthropists. Their story is of interest in itself. Although Connecticut residents, Mr. Huntington was the principal owner of Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, inheriting these holdings from his father who had earlier started the business. The Huntingtons' gifts were many and varied. In 1930, Mr. Huntington founded in the Mariners' Museum in Newport News. An avid authority on Spanish Culture he had earlier founded the Hispanic Museum in New York City as well as Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. Anna Hyatt Huntington was considered a sculptor of note and her work was shown both in this country and abroad. Many pieces decorated the grounds of their Redding, Connecticut estate, Slonerigg Farm, which was left to the State of Connecticut on their demise.

Bookmobile service for Pittsylvania County Library patrons began in 1940 with the loan of a small covered truck holding 250 books from the federally funded Works Progress Administration (WPA) Statewide Library Project. Service included 40 stops within the county. Miss Reba Ramsey served as bookmobile librarian for 13 years.

Dr. Lester Bond headed the Gretna Chamber of Commerce project in 1964 to provide that town with an independent library facility complete with its own governing committee. Although it was staffed by volunteers, the county library provided some books and technical assitance.

A list of those who have served as librarians of the Pittsylvania County Public Library include:

Friends of the Library was formed in 1988 after a gift of land and building on Military Drive was donated by the family of Kerr S. Evans. Organized to assist in fund raising for building new library facilities as well as promote the services of the library, the organization was successful in raising nearly $137,000.

The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors allocated $200,000 and the Virginia State Library authorized a federal grant of $220,000 toward building the new library facilities, which were formally dedicated in the Spring of 1990.

In 1992 a second county library was built. Located in the Brosville community, it was dedicated on December 6, 1992.

Gretna's new county library facility is in the process of being completed at this time to add a third unit in the county library system. It will be dedicated in the Fall of 1999.

In 60 years the Pittsylvania County Library system has grown from a tiny village facility to a sophisticated operation encompassing nearly 80,000 books. Truly, Pittsylvania County's library system has made a difference in the lives of its citizens during the past 60 years.


This webpage is posted by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House as part of an effort to document Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville, Virginia.