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Saturday, April 22, 2017

The People's Free Library of South Carolina -- A Historic Landmark

The People's Free Library of South Carolina.

One of the most interesting landmarks in Chester County can be found a few miles from my home in Lowrys, South Carolina. 

The People's Free Library of South Carolina was built in 1903 by a seasonal visitor to the area, Dr. Delano Fitzgerald, a Baltimore pharmacist, who frequented Chester County during the winter months in order to capitalize on the area's rich hunting grounds. Dr. Fitzgerald wished to contribute something meaningful to the town where he spent many pleasant winter months and the local people of the community who showed him such respect and hospitality. 

When Dr. Fitzgerald expressed interest in establishing a library in the community, a local resident, Mr. J.S. Guy donated a lot for its construction. He opened the library in 1904, which became the first free library in Chester County. 

The small, single room building was built and furnished completely with tables, chairs, a wood stove, and book shelves complete with a collection of approximately 1,381 books and works of popular literature for the time. Dr. Fitzgerald himself employed a year-round library staff of three trustees, supplied leading magazine periodicals, and bore all the expenses of the small library's operation. 

To make the books more widely available to people in the county, ten wooden book boxes were constructed which held several dozen books, which were distributed by a horse or mule-drawn wagon once a month to local homes and schools in York and Chester Counties between 1904 - 1909. This early rural "traveling library service" was one of the first bookmobile-type systems in the country. 

The People's Free Library continued to make a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual development of Lowrys and the surrounding areas from between 1904 - 1954 and continues to serve as a museum and community landmark. 

Today five of the original book boxes remain in the building itself, four are displayed in the Chester County Library, and one is kept in the South Carolina State Library in Columbia.  

The library closed in 1924, but reopened in 1932 as a branch of the Chester County Library system. It would close again permanently as a library in 1954. The building was then donated to the nearby Zion Presbyterian Church, which restored it in 1976 and keeps the small building in good repair as a museum, though it is not open to the public.

The People's Free Library of South Carolina was officially listed on the National Registry of Historic Places on October 29, 1982.

The People's Free Library sits on the property adjacent to the
Zion Presbyterian Church in Lowrys, SC.
The historic building as seen from the front.
The interior photo of the building taken from the front left window.

The registration form for the National Registry of Historic Places submitted to the US Department of the Interior can be seen HERE

I hope y'all enjoyed this story about this important cultural landmark in my home county. 

As always y'all have a great Dixie day!

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