Celebrating 100 years of service: 1915 - 2015
In 1915, the Woman's Club of Fitzgerald secured a Carnegie grant for the construction of a building. The land was donated. Books for
the library were gathered through donations and fundraisers. One such fundraiser had 150 people contribute food and 100 persons bought
a ticket for $1.00 each. The library formally opened on March 1, 1915, with Miss Louise Smith as the first librarian. The library
contained twenty shelves of adult books and fifteen shelves of children's books and in Miss Louise's own words, "not any of these
shelves were anything like well-filled." By the end of 1915, there were less than two thousand books in the collection and
circulation was almost five thousand. The library originally contained a lounge area with cribs and easy chairs so that country women
could relax with their children while the men could attend to their business. The services was not used as much as anticipated, and as
the collection grew, the room was turned into a magazine room.
In 1918, library service was extended to the county. Boxes of books were sent to each of the county schools by patrons who lived in
the area, but as this proved unsatisfactory, arrangements were made to send books parcel post. Miss Louise Smith worked along for many
years. From 1926 to 1933, the city hired Mrs. H.A. Mathis as her assistant, but when Mrs. Mathis left, Miss Louise agreed to work
without help so that the money could be used to buy new books. In November of 1934, Miss Pauline Ennis volunteered to help in the
library, and worked almost a year without salary. In 1934, the FERA project provided for two part-time desk assistants, of which Miss
Ennis was one. Bookmobile service did not begin until 1944 when a WPA project made possible the joint purchase of a bookmobile by
Irwin and Ben Hill Counties. After several years, Irwin County discontinued its service. The American Legion bought the vehicle and
presented it to the Fitzgerald Library so that county service could continue.
In 1951, a new bookmobile, an International panel truck was purchased. In 1949, a new wing, known as the Haile Memorial Addition, was
opened up as the children's room. The land was donated by Mr. Clark Luke in memory of his wife. Other gifts included a churching desk,
picture tables and books, bulletin board and fire logs for the fireplace, while the Woman's Club purchased new furniture for the
reading room. The Children's Room was decorated with murals depicting popular characters in children's books, such as Alice in
Wonderland, Peter Rabbit and others. The murals were painted by Mrs. Elmer Archer as a gift to the children. (This tradition of
artwork for the young readers continues to this day. The current Children's Room has Humpty Dumpty, Hansel and Gretel, Winnie the Pooh
and others, provided by Arts Council members David Malcom, Joanne Minix and Margaret Chasteen.)
In 1951, a new bookmobile, an International panel truck was purchased. In 1958, Miss Louise Smith retired and Miss Pauline Ennis took
her place, serving from 1958 to 1974.
In 1969, Miss Ennis reported that services were provided to classroom libraries and an annual Vacation Reading Club had nearly 400
children participating. Books were available for loan from other libraries through the service provided by the Georgia State
Department of Education. Miss Ennis reported that 1968 closed with a record 41,869 volumes circulated.
In 1983, a new library building was built across from the Post Office on North Main Street. A book brigade, similar to the old
firefighter's fire brigade, passed the books from the Carnegie to the new building. The human chain stretched over three blocks in the
passing of the tens of thousands of books. In 1983, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Grim and Mr. and Mrs. L.T. Roberts made significant donations
to the library for the purpose of establishing an endowment. The major focus of these donations was to fund a symposium in memory of
Mrs. Grim's parents. The Alvin G. and Lydia Todd Brown Symposium have brought such noted authors as Erskine Caldwell, Stuart Woods,
Margaret Anne Barnes, Tina Ansa McElroy and Amy Blackmarr as well as children's authors such as Carmen Deedy to rural Georgia.
Additional Foundation information is available on the Foundation page.
Computers and Internet access began changing the face of library service in the late 1980s and continue to have significant impact to
this day. As a member of PINES, the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Library users have a nearly state-wide library card and can borrow
books from around the state and around the world. Additional photos available online at the Digital Library of Georgia -
http://dlg.galileo.usg.edu/ The Digital Library of Georgia is a gateway to Georgia's history and culture found in digitized books,
manuscripts, photographs, government documents, newspapers, maps, audio, video, and other resources. After many years, the building
was renovated and is now the Carnegie Center for the Arts, home to the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Arts Council. The Center also serves
as a performance space and a museum and arts display gallery for the community. Additional information on the Carnegie can be found in
the vertical file at the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Library.