History of the Library

 

The following story is taken from Library's History Dates Back to 1936, San Benito News, Feb. 27, 1961.

The "modern" library was the result of the concerted effort of the Council of Women's clubs under the leadership of Mrs. E.I. Bucklin, president. For many years the citizens of San Benito had bemoaned the fact that no library was available, but up until 1936 when the Council took over, no positive plans had ever been formulated.

A board was organized and a call for book donations was issued. The call was answered in full strength, and when the library held its formal opening at 375 S. Sam Houston on May 1, 1936, here were already 250 volumnes catalogued and on the shelves with more pouring in every day.

In six short months the number of books on hand swelled to 2,982, with some being sent from as far away as Illinois. There was a wide range of topics available and just about every important author represented, from Chaucer to Sinclair Lewis.

Miss Effie Watson was the first librarian, and Mrs. Daisy Kenton assisted Miss Watson. Both served the library and the community for many, many years in their respective positions.

Memberships were sold at ten cents each and entitled the purchaser to the privilege of checking out 68 books. Many women's groups bought memberships enforce and sold them on the street and door to door. The Pennsylvania Avenue Club was the first literary club to have 100 percent membership.

Naturally, items such as dictionary stands, tables, chairs and other equipment was also needed, so the ladies held benefit bridge parties and ice cream socials to raise the needed funds.

Business was excellent at the library. Soon additonal rom was required, and a permanent building was definitely in order. Gifts from interested patrons was very important, but it also was necessary to earn money in order. Gifts from interested patrons was very important, but it also was necessary to earn money in other ways --benefits and membership card sales.

The original plan for the library called it a combination women's building and library. The city commission granted a site in Heywood Park, opposite the Stonewall Jackson Hotel on Stenger, and Hadley Smith, local architect, prepared the plans. The commission studied Smith's plans for the building which allowed for over 20,000 volumes and meeting space for the women's groups, and agreed that such an edifice would not be in violation of the original Heywood stipulation. (When the land was deeded to the city by the Heywoods, it was with the strict understanding that the land would be used only for public use.) The estimated cost was $10,000.

Controversy reared its head when attorneys were of the opinion that the deed of gift of the land would prevent operation of the women's building policies as planned. However, the question was solved when the library committee received a quit claim deed to the title of the lot from the San Benito Land and Liquidation Company.

In September, 1940, Mayor Louis A. Witte received the green light from the National Youth Administration in Washington, and construction work by this organization began.

The men's groups of San Benito were also influential in securing a permanent building for the library, and some of the male members of that first joint committee were: W.W. Housewright, Alex M. Bowie, W.C. McConnell, Bob Collins, Kenneth Lake, Dr. James D. Casey and Elmer Morris.

The long awaited opening of the present home of the library took place on May 29, 1942. The new building had club rooms in the rear complete with kitchen facilities, and the books were kept in the front. However, additional space was soon needed for the rapidly growing number of volumes in the library, and the city eventually presented the library with the back rooms which now provide reading room.

An interesting feature in the reading room is the unique Memory Shelf. Many books are donated as memorials in leu of flowers at funerals. The room is lined with religious, music and art works plus most of the reference materials available.

There is also a children's section complete with furniture sized to fit the juvenile readers.

Ruben in the Children's section of the library. Photo by Yaharia

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