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The Gunn Memorial Public Library has been an important Caswell County institution for decades, assisting in the education and entertainment of its residents, and providing a repository for valuable historical materials. Local newspapers show that early county libraries were in schools. No public library existed until 1937 when the Caswell County Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) assembled books from various sources and opened a library in the basement of the Agriculture Building in Yanceyville, naming it the Confederate Memorial Library. The organizing UDC committee members were, Mrs. Mary Oliver Kerr, Mrs. Helen Florance Gwynn, and Mrs. Emily Doughty Seagrove.
Ann Gunn Everitt (granddaughter of the library's namesake) remembered the first library in the Agriculture Building basement consisted of only two rooms, the adult room into which patrons entered and the children's room. The librarian sat in the adult room to be able to observe "comings and goings." The entrance was at the bottom of the steps between the Agriculture Building and the stone wall around the base of the historic Caswell County Courthouse.
Later, the small but growing library moved to the basement of the Courthouse. While this provided a bit more space than the Agriculture Building, it was damp, dark, and spooky to many a young patron. The ground-level entrance was at the rear of the Courthouse.
The next move was to the Gwynn Building on West Main Street in Yanceyville (so named because it once housed the medical practice of Dr. Houston Lafayette Gwynn, M.D.). There the Confederate Memorial Library remained until 1966.
During the early years the library was financed and staffed without public funds. The UDC, the Home Demonstration Clubs, and other private groups and individuals provided support. Space was for books and patrons was very limited. In the 1940s the county began making small annual appropriations for the library. However, the amount was not significant until 1955 when the first Library Services Act made available federal funds (subject to matching local funds). However, it became apparent that a new library building was needed.
Frances David Flick, then Director of the Rockingham County library system, encouraged Caswell County to seek federal funds. After learning that the Library Services and Construction Act of 1964 made federal funds available to construct a new library building, the Caswell County Board of Commissioners, at a June 4, 1964, meeting, announced plans to finance a new library. Commissioners were George Irvin Aldridge (Chairman), James Yancey Blackwell, Jr., William Robert Briggs, Charles Franklin Murphy, and Arthur Delbert Swann.
Library Trustees, who assisted the fundraising effort, were Mrs. Mary Oliver Kerr (Chairman), Mrs. Lillie Wise Hovatter, Mrs. Mabel Stephens Long, Mrs. Thyra Howett Smith, Erwin Duke Stephens, and Thomas Harrison Whitley. Under the Library Construction Act, the federal government committed to provide 61% of construction and equipment costs.
To help raise the remaining 39%, the county commissioners allocated $7,000. Additional funding came from a Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation grant. The Caswell County Jaycees, headed by George Irvin Aldridge, spearheaded a fund-raiser called "The Match Mr. Johnny" campaign. Aldridge served the Jaycees on the local, district and state levels (elected NC President in 1967).
Johnny O. Gunn and wife Annie Newman Gunn donated $16,000 and the land for the new library (valued at $6,000). To recognize their generosity the new library was named: Gunn Memorial Public Library (in memory of Mr. Gunn's parents).
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Architects for the project were Vorhees, Everhart, and Connor, of High Point, North Carolina. The General Contractor was E. M. Wilkinson and Son, of Roxboro, North Carolina. The total cost of the project, including books and equipment, was $114,547. Frances David Flick (1916-1991) was the first librarian.
When interviewed for this article, James Yancey Blackwell, Jr., and George Irvin Aldridge were both pleased to see the library expansion. They recalled the hard work and dedication required in the 1960s to bring a modern library to the county and feel rewarded knowing their vision lives on.
Authors: Sandra Aldridge and Rick Frederick (May 17, 2019)
Warm temperatures and sunny skies allowed for a large crowd to form at the grand reopening of the Gunn Memorial Public Library located at 161 Main St. in Yanceyville Wednesday morning, May 1. The ribbon cutting ceremony opened with prayer and the National Anthem was song by Paulette Tate.
A number of speakers graced the ribbon cutting event, sharing their enthusiasm about the library’s reopening. Among the speakers were County Manager Brian Miller and County Commissioner Vice Chairman Rick McVey.
Rhonda Griffin, Gunn Memorial Library Director, said closing the old library was a challenge.
“The original building was built in 1965,” she explained. “When they started to add-on, [staff] had to move out for the renovations, so we moved into Bill Daniel’s old law offices. It was a two-story house and we manage to survive there for a couple of years. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.”
She said over the last couple of months the staff has been working hard to move thing back in and getting things organized.
“My staff has been awesome, here evenings and weekends trying to get straightened up for this grand day,” Griffin said.
The library received a total of $2,369,178 through several grants. Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation helped out with close to a million dollars to get the project off the ground.
PEMC Director Cy Vernon said they were able to provide the library with an interest-free loan.
“I think they were having difficulty trying to find money for the library, but when they received the $995,000 there were other people out there who were in a position to loan money and give them money through a grant,” he explained. “Once the train started moving they wanted to jump on the train and help out too.”
The renovated library has an upgraded children’s area with modern furniture and equipment from the $10,000 given to them for the McDonald’s Corporation.
The library also has a Business/Career center and a STEM area. Duke Energy provided the Gunn Memorial with STEM equipment and furniture for the new library.
The library also has new shelving to hold 40,000 books. Money for the shelving came from the Kathy Milam Foundation.
North Carolina State Liberian Timothy Owens said he received an invitation to the ribbon cutting from the library director and was honored to attend the reopening.
“It reflects just how important library services are to the people of Caswell County,” he explained. “This is a momentous occasion and real opportunity to celebrate. [It is an example of] people coming together on a shared vision and people working together to improve the community.”
Owens said the library offers something for everyone in the new facility.
“They’ve more than doubled their space in here,” Owens said. “They have a tremendous children’s area, lot of computers that provide access to the internet, the makerspace and teen area. There’re so many opportunities for people to come in and gather to learn and share.
“I think it’s an exciting facility and it’s a huge change from when it was in the smaller building before,” Owens continued. “It really does set this library a par, but they have invested so much in their community to provide this amazing facility.”
After the ribbon cutting the library staff opened the doors and allowed the public to come in and see the remodeled library. Members of the community took photos and toured the facility. Children went to the children’s area with their parents to checkout the new space.
The turnout from the community meant a lot to Griffin.
“It has been awesome, and overwhelming support for this library. I am so grateful and appreciative for everything that’s been done,” she said. “The maintenance crew, we couldn’t have done it without them. The IT department, all our community volunteers and the school. It has been amazing how they’ve been able to pull together and support this.”
The Caswell Messenger (Yanceyville, North Carolina) 7 May 2019.