The smallest library in America
Published 11:01 am Friday, August 11, 2023
The small northern Greenville County community of Tigerville consists of a few scenic and peaceful acres of countryside backed up against the wall of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which serve as a boundary between North and South Carolina. And despite the variation in spelling, Tigerville is named for one of the branches of the Tyger River which flows close by.
There’s no doubt that the crown jewel of this lovely little crossroads is North Greenville University which is situated prominently on a hillside overlooking the town. It’s been the centerpiece of Tigerville for well over a century. This institution started life as a high school serving the youth of the Dark Corner. It is now a well-respected Southern Baptist University with a diverse array of degree offerings. A few small businesses have popped up across the road from the school to accommodate the 2,000 or so young scholars who study there. There’s a meat and three, a trendy coffee shop and one or two other commercial enterprises doing business in this charming college community. Tigerville depends on the hilltop college for its survival. There’s little doubt about who’s boss here.
There was a time, though, a few generations back, when the town itself stood on its own two feet and gained national recognition for a rather unusual reason. For you see, Tigerville, at one time, had the smallest library in America. That’s right. In the whole United States of America! Tigerville historians Geraldine Eppley and Candace Rathbone tell the story in their book, “Tigerville: A Journey Through Time.”
Built in 1925, the Tigerville Library consisted of one hundred square feet, ten by ten, and it was jam-packed with books. Evidently, this was a community of voracious readers back in the ‘Roaring Twenties.’ The inventory of much sought-after books grew from 313 volumes in 1929 to 5,020 in 1933. Longtime librarian Virginia Carnes oversaw the operation for years. She opened the small building one day a week and directed traffic, ushering people in and out to avoid collisions in the tight space.
Nationwide recognition came about around 1931 when several well-known national publications caught wind of this Lilliput of libraries. Newspaperman and huckster Robert Ripley even got in on the act including the Tigerville Library in his famous newspaper cartoon, “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.”
The little library continued to serve the community until it was finally closed in July 1976. This was a period of expansion for the Greenville County system, so some smaller branches were closed in order to build bigger, more modern branch libraries. Tigerville was a victim of this expansion. What was left of the Tigerville Library was relocated into Tigerville Elementary School. The small, forlorn building stood empty and lifeless for several years before finally being moved to the property of lifelong Tigerville resident Willie Wood.
The good news is that there is a move among some in this small mountain community to relocate the tiny building one more time to a more prominent location. Hopefully, the building will also get a much-needed facelift and maybe even a historical marker to remind passers-by of its unique place in Tigerville’s history. Tigerville’s moment in the sun, totally out of the shadow of the neighboring college, reminds us that sometimes it’s big to be small!
By Drew Hines