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History of the Macon County Public Library

Public library service in Franklin began in the early 1890’s, when ten young men and women decided that their town needed a library and set out to establish one through voluntary contributions and by fund-raising projects. The Franklin Public Library was soon housed on the South side of Main Street.

(Continued from About Macon County Public Library)

Disaster struck in March of 1894 when a fire swept through a section of Franklin, destroying this and several other buildings. The library lost about $100 worth of books and furniture. A few books were saved, and these formed the nucleus of the library when it rented a room a few doors down, still on Main Street. In September 1901, the Franklin Public Library moved to the lower floor of the Masonic Lodge on Church Street, and there it remained until 1955.

In these early years the library owed most of its existence to the efforts of its female supporters, who canvassed for new members, collected dues, gave an occasional play, and served oyster suppers to raise money.

In 1915, Miss Lassie Kelly undertook to get the library on a solid footing. For the next twenty years she supervised the volunteers and took control of the donations and finances. She and her family and friends donated many books to build the library collection.

When Work Projects Administration funds became available in 1935, Mrs. Ethel D. Johnston was employed as librarian and Mrs. Frank I. (Nobia) Murray as her assistant. The library expanded its hours and was able to operate on a regular schedule.

The first state funds were appropriated in 1941, and Miss Kelly took advantage of this opportunity to obtain grants for the Franklin Public Library. She bought new books for the library. Mrs. Murray was the Bookmobile Librarian and driver.

An official Board of Trustees was needed for the Franklin Public Library to be eligible for state aid funds. In December of 1943 the County Commissioners appointed a six-member board.

In 1944, the Fontana Regional Library was established by TVA to provide library service for its workers on Fontana Dam. The Fontana Regional Library, headquartered in Bryson City, also supervised library service in Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties. Nobia Murray became the full-time librarian in Franklin.

From 1941 to 1955 the library continued to grow with funding from the county, state, and private donations. Miss Kelly watched the money carefully and in 1955 was able to realize her dream: a new library building was begun. Before it was completed, the library had to vacate its premises in the Masonic Lodge, which was to be razed so a new one could be put in its place. Some library books were stored in the Agriculture Building and others were taken to Miss Kelly’s antique shop where the public could have access to them. The new library was located next to the Old Jail and a half a block down from the Court House. Volunteers helped by cleaning and sanding shelves and transporting the books to their new location.

The new library had 1600 square feet on each of its two floors and was built at a cost of $10,000. Upon Mrs. Murray’s retirement in 1965, Mildred Davenport, who had volunteered for many years at the library, assumed full responsibility of the Library. The Friends of the Library was organized in 1971.

The Franklin Public Library was now serving a wider area than just the town, and in 1974 the name was changed to the Macon County Public Library in order to reflect the area served.

In 1973 state personnel funds were used to employ the services of the first certified librarian with a master’s degree in Library Science. Janelle Wallace worked from 1973 to 1975 as the first professional librarian of the Macon County Public Library. Cynthia Thompson Modlin was employed as Head Librarian in 1976.

By 1972 the need for a newer, larger building was evident and a successful grant application and fund drive resulted in the present structure at 45 Wayah Street. The building was constructed in 1976 at a cost of $385,000 and encompasses 7300 square feet on one level. The library materials were moved to the new building by the library staff, the Bookmobile and Regional Library staff, and volunteers in January of 1977. The move was accomplished in one week in spite of a heavy snowfall on the ground.