Library service has existed in some form in our community since the early days of our history. From the official publication of an act approved in 1816 at the First Session of the Twenty-fourth General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, we find authorization for the incorporation of the Hopkinsville Library Company. It is interesting to note that this same act authorized the incorporation of the Louisville Library Company.
The March 16th, 1874 issue of “The Weekly Kentucky New Era” yields the information that the Hopkinsville Public Library and Reading Room opened on the second floor in the E.H. Hopper and Son Bookstore building. This building was on the east side of Main Street between Seventh and Eighth, over the present Cornette Office Supply Company.
Still another newspaper comes on the scene with library news. “The Tri-Weekly New Era” of January 28th, 1896 published a colorful history of the new library effort which we know as the Public Schools Library. The article states that a social and literary club of ladies and gentlemen known as the United Volunteer Combination saw the need for a library in connection with the public schools and raised money for the project by an entertainment at Mozart Hall on May 2nd, 1882. The program consisted of songs, recitations, and a broom drill. Members taking part included Misses Lizzie Gish, Minnie Lander, Mary McPherson, Sallie McDaniel, Emily B. Perry, Alberta Pendergast, Annie Waller, Messrs. Charles Anderson, Frank H. Clarke, James Y. Cabaniss, Jerred Crabb, John G. Ellis, Joel D. McPherson, Charles M. Meacham, John O. Rust, and Bailey Waller.
This delightful entertainment yielded $83 which purchased one hundred volumes of Hapers School Library consisting of history, biography, popular science, fiction, and general literature. Some of these books are still in use.
The Public Schools Library opened September 8th, 1882. The first borrower was Miss Lizzie Tandy who checked out Woman in White.
The library fund received $122 from the old and defunct Christian County Library Association and $216 worth of books from its shelves. This addition brought the Public Schools Library to 300 volumes.
Thanks to the “Tri-Weekly New Era,” we have other information about this early school library. Cards of admission could be purchased for ten cents by children after their first year. Membership cards good for one year were issued to other persons on payment of one dollar. In 1885, 161 cards were issued to pupils and 336 cards to members. From the date of the library’s opening on September 8, 1882 until January 25, 1886, 9,022 volumes had been circulated according to Prof. Dietrich in an interview with the “Tri-Weekly new Era.”
We are indebted to C.M. Meacham’s newspaper column of Sept. 13, 1939 in which he states that the Hopkinsville Library Association was organized in 1896.
A newspaper account of February 2, 1898 is headlined, “BOOKS HAVE ARRIVED, LIBRARY WILL OPEN WITHIN A WEEK. THE LIST IS SUPERB, SHOULD SURELY BE A SPLENDID SUCCESS.” The article explains arrangements for opening the library for public use. The list of books included such titles as Quo Vadis, Choir Invisible, A Kentucky Cardinal, Treasure Island, Lorna Doone, Les Miserables, and The Red Badge of Courage.
Sometime between 1900 and 1910, the library moved into the courthouse annex, a small brick building located where the Alhambra Theatre now stands. This library is the immediate precursor of the Carnegie Library on Liberty Street.
The Carnegie Foundation
According to the July 1915 Annual Report, the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie inspired local citizens to attempt to obtain a permanent, separate building to house the public library. In 1912, the Civic Improvement League was organized and began seeking a Carnegie building as one of its major projects. Mrs. Ira L. Smith, president, formed a committee of the following: Mrs. W.A. Radford, Chairman; Mrs. T.W. Blakey; Miss Susie Stities; Mrs. W.D. Lipscomb; Mrs. Sallie Moss; and Miss Katie McDaniel.
The committee attempted to secure the use of part of Peace Park on which to construct a Carnegie Library. The committee was finally able to buy land on Liberty Street from First Presbyterian Church. The Carnegie Foundation rejected the committee’s request for $25,000, but granted $15,000 for the building. On August 16, 1913 plans and specifications for the library were in hand, and the Forbes Manufacturing Company agreed to build for $12,398.95. The balance of the Carnegie grant above the cost of the building proper was used to pay for lighting, furniture, shades, and the architect’s fee. The library was opened to the public in October 1914. The Carnegie grant stipulated that the City of Hopkinsville must make annual appropriations necessary to keep the building in proper condition, pay a librarian, and purchase the necessary books.
Mrs. Lipscomb served as librarian until her death when Miss Willie Rust was appointed to that position. Upon Miss Rust’s retirement in 1961, David Turner, a native of Maryland, was elected librarian. Upon his resignation in 1962, Miss Kate D. Ezell, who had served as assistant librarian under both Miss Rust and Mr. Turner, was elected to the post. Following her retirement in 1968, David E. Cumbee was appointed Director of the Hopkinsville Public Library.
In 1958, the library became a member of the Pennyrile Region of the Kentucky Department of Libaries.
In 1974, under the leadership of Mayor George L. Atkins Jr. and the Hopkinsville City Council, a comprehensive study of the public library and its need was begun. The study focused on the need for building a new facility, securing a satisfactory location, and financing the venture. This study resulted in the purchase by the city of Hopkinsville Development Corporation of the Ragland-Potter property located on the east bank of Little River. The city then made the property available to the Trustees of the Library to be used as the site for a proposed new library building.
Negotiations then began to devise an arrangement whereby a joint city-county library could be funded and governed. Early in 1974, final approval for a proffered plan was secured from the attorney general. Thus, the present Hopkinsville-Christian County Public Library was created.
The Board of Trustees now consists of ten members: five residents of the city are appointed by the mayor and council, and five residents of the county are appointed by the county judge and fiscal court. The terms of service range from one year to four years.
In August 1975, the contract to remodel the Ragland-Potter Building was signed, culminating years of effort on the part of many interested citizens to secure adequate library facilities. Formal dedication was set for January 23, 1977. The tremendous task of moving from Hopkinsville’s Carnegie Library on Liberty Street to the new Hopkinsville-Christian County Public Library on Bethel Street was accomplished in the last weeks of December 1976.