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Beginnings and Beyond

From an idea hatched by the Woman's Kanawha Literary Society, KCPL has grown from a two-room collection to a county-wide system with cutting edge library services. Trace our progress from the very beginning...

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Our Founding Mothers

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Members of the Woman's Kanawha Literary Society, circa 1915. This organization, also known as Kanawha Lit, founded the library in 1909 and is still going strong today.

Standing: *Mrs. Benjamin A. Caruthers, Mrs. Arthur A. Shawkey, *Mrs. Matthew M. Williamson, Mrs. J. Davidson, Mrs. H. D. Rummel, unknown

Seated: *Mrs. Frederick P. Grosscup, Mrs. Hugh G. Nicholson, Mrs. W.E.R. Byrne, Mrs. Ernest Thompson, *Mrs. Julius A. deGruyter, *Mrs. Benjamin S. Morgan

Charter Members not pictured: Mrs. Frank L. Beardsley, Mrs. James B. Houston, Mrs. John E. Norvell

Photo courtesy of Woman's Kanawha Literary Society

* denotes Charter Members

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The first collection consisted entirely of donated books. This article from March of 1909 shows how much enthusiasm there was in Charleston for the new library - 600 books is a lot of book donations!

First Home

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The building on the right is the old YMCA building on Lee Street (which is no longer standing). The first Charleston Library (as it was then called) opened in two rooms of this building.

First Librarian

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Miss Mabel Dell Jones came to Charleston from Gallipolis, Ohio and was the only library employee from its opening in 1909 until she left in 1913. She was Charleston's first professional librarian.

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George S. Laidley was the first President of the Library Board, on which he served from 1909 - 1938. He was instrumental in gaining public support for the burgeoning library, and helped secure its first permanent home in the Capitol Annex building.

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During June of 1909, the 195 patrons of the new library checked out 461 volumes, about 20 per day. Not bad, considering they had 1400 books in the whole collection.

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In 1913, Miss Jones was joined by Mrs. Ernest "Bessie" von Schlechtendal, who served as the head librarian until 1939. She retired in 1945 - after 36 years of service.

Many Moves

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In the first few years of operation, the library grew very quickly and had to move several times to account for expansion. In 1912, the Kanawha Presbyterian Church on Quarrier Street donated space to the library. The next year, the library moved to the YWCA building on Virginia Street. A year later, the library moved to Kanawha and MacFarland Street, to a building that is now the parking lot for the Charleston Newspapers. Finally, in 1921, the library moved to rooms in the Red Cross Building (near Haddad Park). After so many moves, people in the community began to look for a permanent home.

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Col. A. E. Humphreys led the movement to build a new, permanent library building. He pledged $100,000 if the library could match it. (That's about $1,200,000 today.) When the Capitol Annex Building on Capitol Street became available in 1922 (after the State Capitol moved down the road to its current location), the library moved in there. It took four years, but on May 15, 1926, George S. Laidley led the opening ceremony for the new building.

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In 1926, the Charleston Library operated a separate facility located at Garnet High School on Shrewsbury Street (calle the Garnet Branch) for use by African-Americans that had its own library board. Although the WV Supreme Court ruled that the library could not be segregated, service for African Americans was extremely limited in the Capitol Annex building until the mid-1950s.

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John V. Ray became a member of the Library Board in 1929, on which he served until 1974, more than 30 of those years as Board President. Mr. Ray was instrumental in guiding the development from the Charleston Library to a county-wide Kanawha County Public Library system. He was also integral in implementing professional standards for employees, encouraging the hiring of professional librarians and stuff.

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Two big changes occurred in the library in 1934. First, the name was changed from Charleston Library to Kanawha County Public Library. Then, to better serve the entire county, the bookmobile began delivering library goodness to rural areas. When not in use, it was parked under the bleachers at Laidley Field.

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A library employee makes a stop with the first Bookmobile in the 1930s. Notice how librarians wore sensible shoes, even back in the day.

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The Library was deeply affected by WWII, as many staff members answered the call to service. The Director, Charles Butler, was drafted in 1942, as was bookmobile driver Fred Herz. But the few men who worked at the library were not the only ones affected: Miss Frances Alderson was enlisted in WAVES, and Anne Baumeister enlisted in the Women's Corps. The big difference was that Mr. Butler was placed on unpaid leave while he served in the military, whereas Miss Alderson was terminated with the promise that she would be re-employed when she returned - if there was a position available.

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In 1959, KCPL celebrated its 50th anniversary. The library had grown from two small rooms in the YMCA building to fill the whole Capitol Annex building, with outreach to the entire county via the Bookmobile.

Of course, many more changes were yet to come - the construction of branches, a new building for Charleston, and, of course, computers.

Continue to Growth and Expansion…

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