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1865-1924 RCPL History

The rebuilding of Columbia after 1865 went slowly. As late as the 1870s, most of Richardson Street still stood in ruins and the bridge across the Congaree River had not been replaced. Proposals to start a new library were made with the National Library Crusade, a movement aimed to better educate the general public, providing a much needed impetus. However, their efforts came to naught. Finally, a Columbia matron’s group founded the Union for Practical Progress in 1896, which successfully established a small lending library on the first floor of City Hall. This Lend-A-Hand library soon became the Columbia Library Association; Dr. James Woodrow served as the first president, while Wade Hampton III and other leading citizens donated their own books to the collection. Three years later, located at 1528 Main (formerly Richardson) Street, the building and the books burned; a loss keenly felt by the city’s citizens. Fortunately, the library soon rebuilt at the same location. Librarians Mrs. Cramer and Miss Ellen Elmore managed this new book collection, again a gift from the city’s leading citizens.

The beginning of the twentieth century brought changes to the stores along Main Street as they rose in height, producing a skyline for the city. Work began in January 1901 on a new home for the Loan and Exchange Bank-a 12 story structure the city’s and the state’s first skyscraper. During the construction, the Columbia Library Association raised funds so that the now renamed Timrod Library, honoring the Confederacy’s Poet Laureate, could open on the new building’s second floor. The Association charged a 25 cents monthly fee, or an annual fee of $2. However, judged on an individual basis and if deemed unaffordable by the Chamber of Commerce, the fee could be waived. Mrs. Cramer continued as Librarian until her 1922 retirement when Miss Annie R. Locke took over the librarian’s post. Censorship and noise never posed problems for Miss Annie. Books she deemed unsuitable for Columbia’s residents were merely placed out of sight under her desk. Extremely hard of hearing, Miss Annie wore a hearing aid wired to a battery pinned to her chest. When moments of peace and quiet became necessary, she just turned off the battery.

By 1924, the library’s popularity with the city’s citizens caused the Chamber of Commerce and City Council to assume financial responsibility and change the name to the Columbia Public Library. To house the growing collection they rented new quarters in the Sylvan Building, conveniently located on the corner of Hampton and Main Streets. But even more growth meant a move two years later to a location above Kramer’s Shoe Store at 1524 Main.

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