Stony Knoll Community Library to celebrate 80th anniversary

Published 4:13 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Stony Knoll Community Library, a “Community Jewel,” has been serving the community for 80 years. In celebration of its 80 years of service to the community there will be an 80th Anniversary Program on Sunday, August 20, 2017 at 4 p.m. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Joseph Fox, president and CEO of Fox Management Consulting Enterprises. Choirs will render music at the program. The program will be at the Roseland Center in Tryon, N.C. Mrs. Sandra Forney is the chairperson of the program.

The Stony Knoll Community Library is located in Mill Spring, N.C. on Fox Mountain Road. It was founded on August 24, 1937 by Mrs. Della Hayden Davenport Jackson. This library is a non-tax supported institution. In 1972 the Stony Knoll Community Library was incorporated and received a charter from the state of North Carolina.

One day in 1937 while Della was collecting books, newspapers, and magazines that were donated to her adult education students by individuals in Polk County, she got the idea to organize a library. She thought that it would be great for persons to be able to check out a book to read and return it when they had finished so someone else could check it out to read. Della taught adult education classes through the government’s Work Progress Administration in Stony Knoll, Tryon, and Pea Ridge, N.C. She mentioned her idea of organizing a library to her supervisor, Mrs. Winifred O’Neal, and she thought that it would be an excellent undertaking for Della. Della discussed her idea with the adult education students in Stony Knoll, and they also thought that it would be a good thing to do. Della selected the Stony Knoll Community in which to put the library because that was the community in which she lived. So the Stony Knoll Library was established on August 24, 1937. 

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Della rented a room that would be the library for 50 cents a week at the two-story CME Church parsonage in Stony Knoll. It was the same house in which the adult education classes for Stony Knoll were being held. (The house is now known as the Jones House and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.) To help with the responsibilities of the new library, Della organized a Library Club composed of the adult education class in Stony Knoll. The Library Club made and painted tables and bookcases for the library.

The first books for the new library came from several donors. The donors were Allen High School in Asheville, N.C.; the Lend a Hand Book Mission of Ohio; North Carolina Library Commission in Raleigh, N.C.; a local book rally; and some friends. The public opening and dedication ceremony of the library was on October 9, 1937. There were 90 books on the shelves in addition to booklets, newspapers, and magazines in the new library. It took only seven weeks, from the decision to organize the library to the day that the library was opened to the public.

In early 1939, Della felt that there was a need for a larger space to house the books and magazines that had accumulated in the library. She thought that a new library building was needed. She discussed the idea with the adult education students and they agreed that a new library building was a good idea. So they agreed to purchase land on which to build the library building. They took a collection and only one person had money. It was a dime. The dime was given, and Della said, “With this dime we will start a fund to buy land and build a library.” In October 1939, the land on which the library building now stands was purchased. When they got ready to purchase the land, they had very little money, but Della negotiated with Mr. Taylor Whitesides and bought 2.8 acres of land from him on which to build the library. The purchase agreement was to pay $100 per acre, with nothing down, paying for the land in five years.

The Stony Knoll Library Project gained recognition throughout Polk County. One day Mrs. Russell Walcott, a white resident of Tryon, discovered that the Stony Knoll Library needed help with the payments on the land. She and her friend paid off the debt on the land for the library. Mrs. Walcott delivered the Deed of Trust to Della.

In late 1939 the building of the library was begun. Della personally took responsibility for all materials until money could be raised to pay for the materials. Mr. Clarence Thompson, her brother-in-law constructed the library with the help of James Hayden, Della’s nephew. The library was built of rock-faced cement blocks that were handmade. The blocks were made on the grounds where the library was being built. Tryphonia Hayden, Della’s nephew, and Mr. Jesse Lynch, a friend, made the blocks. The block machine which molded one block at a time was owned by Mr. Isaac J. Mills, Della’s cousin. Young children in the community filled barrels of water from a nearby creek, and Della hauled the barrels in a one-horse drawn wagon, to the library grounds so the men could make the cement for the blocks and the mortar.  When the construction of the library was complete, Robert King, Della’s nephew accented the grain in the wood on the ceiling, the inside gables, the bookcases, and the cabinets by using a blow torch to make the grain in the wood black (a recognized artistic technique). Robert King also made several pieces of playground equipment for the yard.

A group of 11 persons cleared off the acre of land in front of the library. On that land, they planted and grew cotton, which they sold. That acre of cotton gave the library the largest single amount of money the library had received.

The library building was occupied in April 1940. In total, 1,500 books were put on the shelves in the new library building. All of the books were donated. On May 1, 1940 the first club meeting was held in the new library building. The third anniversary celebration of the Stony Knoll Community Library and the dedication of the new library building were held on August 24, 1940. It was an all-day program of celebration.

The Stony Knoll Community Library grew in interest and in service and countless numbers of individuals gave books and magazines. The Stony Knoll Community Library had friends from Florida to Maine and from North Carolina to California, but the staunchest of the supporters were found in Polk County.

Stony Knoll Library was the inspiration for the beginning of a number of other libraries in Polk County. Della started libraries in the six rural schools for African Americans in Polk County from books furnished from the Stony Knoll Community Library. These schools were Stony Knoll School, Pea Ridge School, Cox School, Melvin Hill School, Green Creek School, and Union Grove School. All of the schools were elementary schools with one teacher, except Green Creek which had two teachers. The Polk County Board of Education appropriated funds to pay for the transportation of books to those six schools on a monthly basis, as there was no other library service for schools for African Americans in Polk County.

In 1951 when the six African American schools were consolidated into the Cobb Elementary School, the books given to those six schools by the Stony Knoll Library were brought together to comprise a good size library of books at Cobb Elementary School.

After the schools were consolidated, the Stony Knoll Community Library was not used as much for reading, but it became the hub for community activities and projects which developed through the years.   Major community projects that the Stony Knoll Library supported after 1954 through the initiation of Della Hayden Davenport Jackson were as follows: digging a well for the library, building the Stony Knoll Community Center, organizing a community baseball team, organizing youth groups including the Four H Club, supporting the Thrifty Workers Extension Homemakers Club, supporting the Western North Carolina Community Development Association, organizing the Stony Knoll Child Care Center, building the Merrill Hall-Conference Room, supporting scholarships for high school seniors, supporting the summer work program for high school students, and acquiring books on African American life and history, science, biography, auto-biography, history, poetry, and non-fiction literature.   

The Stony Knoll Community Library is now a library museum so that visitors can see the library that serviced the Africans Americans in rural Polk County during 1937-1960s. Today, the Stony Knoll Community Library is still a “Community Jewel” although a few repairs need to be done on the building.

Della Hayden Davenport Jackson was not only the founder of the Stony Knoll Community Library, but also the librarian from the library’s establishment until her death on April 4, 1993. The library was her special life project and she gave her service to it without pay.

Della was born in Mill Spring, N.C. on March 2, 1905. She attended the Stony Knoll Elementary School in Mill Spring; Allen Home High School in Asheville; Allen Home Teacher Training Department in Asheville; Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. where she received her bachelor’s degree; North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C. where she received her master’s degree, and Women College of the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C. where she received a certificate in Library Science. 

Della taught school in Polk County during all of her 46 years of teaching. She taught elementary school, high school, and adult education. She was a lifetime member of the Stony Knoll CME Church. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Her biography can be found in Who’s Who in the South and Southwest, Who’s Who of American Women, Community Leaders and Noteworthy Americans, Dictionary of International Biography 1975, and Community Leaders of America. Della received more than 50 awards and recognitions during her life. 

After her death, the Children’s Room in the new Polk County Library was named for her. Also at the Polk County Library there is an engraved plaque of her face in its lobby.

Following is one of the things that she said about her work with the Stony Knoll Community Library:   “I feel highly rewarded for my efforts in helping others through the Stony Knoll Community Library. I hope that the Stony Knoll Community Library services and accommodations have helped the African Americans of the Stony Knoll Community to become better citizens of the community, the county, the state, and the nation.” 

If you have questions concerning the Stony Knoll Community Library, call Mrs. Evelyn Petty at 828-894-3984.

– article submitted by Mae Carolyn Jackson Williams