Nomadic bookshelf finds permanent home in 190

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2015

By Gina Malone

The ladies who established Lanier Library were trailblazers, unflagging in their determination to provide literature and culture for Tryon, and early on, the bookshelf that was the library in those days blazed its own trail all over town before finding a permanent home.


The First Methodist Episcopal Church, located then on Melrose Avenue where the Congregational Church is today, was the library’s first home in 1890. Early accounts say the club voted to pay 50 cents a month during winter to have the sexton build a fire in the cold church.


There was also a motion made by Mary LeDuc that, given the uncomfortable nature of the “sturdy, straight-backed, splint-seated, mountain-made chairs” in the church, that “it would not be rude to tilt in these chairs.” Mannerly ladies though they were, the motion was unanimously carried.


In 1896, the shelf began its journey, moving first to the post office located at the corner of Trade and Maple Streets. The postmistress doubled as librarian. It was then also that the ladies first noted the need for a larger bookcase.


Two years later, the shelf moved north along Trade Street to a large room over William Luckey’s store. The ladies hosted a housewarming, inviting the town’s newcomers to a luncheon.


Some time afterward, the post office moved into a building on Pacolet Street, and the shelf relocated with it. William McKinley had been elected president of the United States. A former student of LeDuc, he “gracefully acknowledged his educational debt,” as one history of the library notes, by appointing her postmistress. Notes also say that LeDuc was careful to lock up the post office on nights when she heard, through the grapevine, that the “Dark Corner Boys” were headed for Tryon “with the joyous intent of shooting up the town.”


When a millinery shop, Guffin’s Bower, opened in the former post office building, the shelf moved back again, with the club paying $1.50 a month in rent that included Miss Hallie Guffin’s acting as librarian.


In the year 1900, the shelf moved up and down Trade Street, occupying the ground floor of the Livingstone Building and an office above Missildine’s. Perhaps the nomadic shelf planted in the ladies’ minds the idea of a traveling library for they began bringing books by horse and buggy up to Lynn and down to Landrum years before the country’s first recognized bookmobile. Tryon was growing and there were now 80 members in the club.


The ladies continued planning a permanent home for the library, raising money through bazaars and other means for a building fund. The lot at the corner of Melrose Avenue and Chestnut Street had already been purchased, with club funds paying half the price and Miss Frances Wright, club president from 1898 until 1900, paying the remainder.


In 1903, the club had catalogued its 700th book. A year later, however, Orr’s Store – the shelf’s latest home – caught fire and burned to the ground. Insurance money and donations – including a whole set of her husband’s works by Mary Lanier – helped to rebuild the collection, and the club began to work in earnest to have a building erected.


The building committee had $1,375 set aside for construction and that is what was spent on the brown-shingled building that, with additions and renovations over the years, still houses the library today. The club’s first meeting there was held on Dec. 21, 1905.


Next week, read how the forthright Lanier Club ladies managed to have a say in affairs all over town and beyond!