Imagine Summerville 100 years ago. Hardly any paved roads existed, and horse travel was still a primary means of transportation. Only 50 years prior marked the end of the civil war. In 1888, just 21 years after the end of the war, the International Congress of Physicians in Paris, France declared Summerville one of the two healthiest places in the world. This event marked the beginning of Summerville's Golden Age; a time when prominent visitors from all over the world traveled to this town for health reasons as well as the opportunity to bask in the town's serenity, charm, and beauty. It was in this time and setting, 1897 to be exact, that a group of Summerville ladies formed a Chautauqua reading circle. The books they chose to read and discuss were not what most of us today would have thought that a women's reading circle of that day would be delving into. They were reading and discussing works from authors like Emerson, Thoreau, Timrod, and Foster; and frequently discussed issues associated with politics and economics. In the beginning, they met at one another's homes and various locations around town. As the club grew and the need for more room became imperative, the meeting place moved to an upstairs room above Guerin's Pharmacy. Members of the reading circle began donating books and formed a library, which ultimately led to the birthing of a subscription library that was chartered on April 23, 1908. The need for a permanent library building became paramount. On land donated by the town of Summerville, a local contractor by the name of Jim Cooper with help from several local businesses and volunteers erected the building on Central Avenue; and on April 15, 1915, the Timrod Library opened its doors for business. For over 60 years, from 1915 to 1979, the Timrod Library was Summerville's only library.
Through Summerville's Golden Age there is no doubt Timrod Library did quite well just as most businesses and organizations around town. However, as the world entered into "The War To End All Wars" (WWI), priorities changed and travel throughout the US and the entire world decreased significantly. The beginning of WWI marked the beginning of the end for Summerville's Golden Age. Then came the "Great Depression" followed by WWII. Summerville's great inns and businesses that relied heavily upon visitors from abroad took a devastating financial blow. Many closed down completely while some others were able to streamline their expenses and remain in business until the advent of the motel and super-highways (1960s and early 1970s). The Timrod Library handled these changes and upheavals with tremendous resilience, grace, and dignity. While its membership may have suffered some losses during this time, it was never enough to cause a complete shutdown. Fortunately the Timrod's support came primarily from Summerville's residence instead of its visitors.
From the late 1800s through the 1920s Subscription Libraries were the only libraries in many US cities and towns. Because public libraries required government support via taxes and/or large contributions from philanthropists, there were no public libraries within the South Carolina lowcountry area until the 1960s; and not in the town of Summerville until May of 1979. However, as the populace grew, so did the need for public libraries. Tax monies were allocated, and the necessary funds were raised. As a result, all but two subscription libraries throughout the State South Carolina either merged with their public counterparts or completely disbanded. To this day, there are still only two subscription libraries in the State: The Charleston Library Society and The Henry Timrod Library.
As stated in a previous article, Summerville - A Virtual Walking Tour Part 2, "This library that originated from a women’s reading circle in 1897 seems to somehow personify the very heart and soul of the Summerville community; solid, steadfast, and yet willing and able to change with the times without a dilution of heritage, integrity, and/or preservation." There is a great deal more to this library than a beautiful old building filled with books, and even some books that can't be found anywhere else. No, there's a great deal more to it than just that. Back in 1915, the community of Summerville pitched in together to bring this library into being. They had a desire to make the media of the day (printed material) available to everyone. Not just for the citizens of that time, but for this community's citizens for many years, decades, and even centuries to come. Over the years additions to the building were added as the need arose. On each occasion, the community pitched in to help, just as it did in the beginning. The community of Summerville today is no less committed to the continued progression and goals of Timrod Library than it was in 1915. Today Timrod library offers a variety of media to its visitors; books, CD's, audiobooks, classic movies, and much more. On the second Thursday of the month, they have a children's story time. On several occasions throughout the year, authors are invited in to speak and give members an opportunity to meet them. There are book fairs, dinners, and always a friendly member of the staff that is more than willing to help each visitor experience all that Timrod has to offer. Yes, this library is a great deal more than just the sum of its parts. Stop by for a visit, wish them a happy 100th anniversary, and while you're there consider becoming a subscriber.