The Walterborough Library Society Building is the oldest public building in Walterboro. This little building holds a strong legacy and is definitely worth getting a closer look. This small building is known as the Little Library and was the original home of what eventually became the entire library system in Colleton County. The Little Library is owned by the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society so it continues its tradition of being a place of culture and learning.
In 1820, a group of young men and their families from the Walterboro area were living in Walterboro after being educated in Europe. The lack of reading materials was something that they began to take particular notice of. These enterprising Colleton County residents decided to found the Walterborough Library Society. The Walterborough Library Society amassed an impressive leather bound book collection that was imprinted with the name of the Society in gold on the spines. There were many rules for membership and the members set up strict loan periods and quite a steep fine system for items that were returned late. A member could check out a folio (a large book, approximately the size of our modern coffee-table books) for six weeks, a quarto volume (a book with pages folded in two) for four weeks, an octavo (a book with pages folded in four) for two weeks, and duodecimos (a single sheet from a printing press folded into twelve leaves) could be checked out for two weeks.1
The Little Library is a stunning example of the Federal Style. In her speech at the dedication of the small park that houses the Little Library, Mrs. Laura Lynn Hughes gave the following description of the style of the building: “They used the very best timbers for the beaded clapboards and louvered shutters with colonial hardware…the doorway was emphasized with a fanlight and sidelights and they installed three beautiful Palladian windows.”2 In addition Mrs. Hughes noted that somewhere along the way the Little Library acquired a tin roof, but it was likely not until the early 1900s when it was used as a city hall. Originally it would have had shaker shingles on the roof.3
When the town of Walterboro incorporated in 1826 Archibald Campbell, the surveyor, used the Little Library as his center point and the boundaries of the town were set at three quarters of a mile in each direction from the Little Library.4 In 1845 Richard Bedon donated land in front of his home for a park and the Little Library was moved to its current location. When it was first moved to its current location the Little Library faced Wichman Street but now it has been turned to face Fishburne Street.5
The Walterboro Library Society disbanded in 1836 and its many volumes were split up between its members and the Society donated the building to the town. In 1888 a local schoolteacher by the name of Claudia Stuart reopened the library. When the Library was reorganized many of the original volumes were returned in good condition.6 It had a short-lived run and eventually shut down again. It wasn’t until 1920, a century after its incorporation, that the Walterborough Library Society became a functioning entity again, though this time it was the ladies of the Walterboro Book Club who reorganized and revitalized the Library Society.7 Some fifteen years later the Colleton County Library was established separate from the Walterborough Library Society. They were combined into one library in 1957.8 The collection of books that was housed by the Little Library was moved to the new library facility the Colleton County Memorial Library.9
The vacant building was then occupied by the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society and continues to be owned by the Society to this day. In 1957 The Little Library was turned 90 degrees to face the park.10 In 1976 the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society received a generous grant that allowed them to complete some necessary repairs and restoration to the building, though quite amazingly it is largely unaltered from its original state.11
This charming little building in the center of the Historic District of Walterboro still stands as a testament to Walterboro’s history and the legacy of education and culture that was prized in the Walterboro area. In the past few years the building has had many necessary repairs to the roof and the deteriorating wood as well as exterior painting thanks to combined efforts of the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society, The City of Walterboro, and other trusts. In 2013, thanks to a generous grant from the Colonel Joseph Glover Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, important repairs to the floor and interior painting were completed to maintain the integrity of the building. The Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society continues to own and maintain the property that is being developed into an Archive and Reading room for the local community. You can view the inside of the Little Library by appointment however all are welcome to visit the park and view the exterior of the building at any time.
Written by A. Karel Horn
November 20, 2014
1Estellene P. Walker, “Colleton County Memorial Library,” University of South Carolina, School of Library Science, September 1, 2014. http://www.libsci.sc.edu/histories/vts/epw21.html
2Laura Lynn Hughes, “Collection of Laura Lynn Hughes,” Collection of Papers and Documents detailing the History and Preservation of Colleton County, Colleton County Historical Society, n.d.
6Estellene P. Walker, “Colleton County Memorial Library,” University of South Carolina, School of Library Science, September 1, 2014. http://www.libsci.sc.edu/histories/vts/epw21.html
10Laura Lynn Hughes, “Collection of Laura Lynn Hughes,” Collection of Papers and Documents detailing the History and Preservation of Colleton County, Colleton County Historical Society, n.d.