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The History of Hall County Library System

There were several attempts to establish a county library back in the late 1890’s. In January of 1904 The Gainesville News published an article stating, “Postmaster Farrow is in correspondence with a wealthy northern gentleman about a Free Public Library for our city. With our present population of nearly ten thousand people, with three large cotton factories and their thousands of employees, and electric street car line of about seven miles of track in operation, our Brenau College with its three hundred young ladies, and the rapid growth of our city in every point of view, there could be no young city in our broad land offering a prettier field for such a gift from a Christian philanthropist.”

Unfortunately none of these attempts of providing a public library were realized. Prior to 1933, the ladies of Grace Episcopal Church started a small community library in the basement of their church. Mrs. J. H. Downey enlisted the women of the church to volunteer in the afternoons so that the church would be open on a regular basis. It was not unusual for a person returning a library book to make a donation of an additional book to the library collection.

The tornado of 1936 destroyed the Grace Episcopal Church along with library. Many books were left exposed to the elements, but some were salvaged by the ladies of the church. Because of this loss to the community, Hall County residents started the groundwork for a public library in Hall County, Georgia.

The first meeting of the Hall County Library Board was held in 1937. Interested citizens named May 21, 1937 as Library Day and planned a book and money shower. In March of 1938, the Hall County Library System officially moved into the basement of the courthouse.

Ethel Roark of Clermont was the first librarian. During the early 1940’s, under the care of Mary Pursell, the first professionally trained librarian for the system, several depository libraries were established throughout the county. One of these libraries was in Murrayville at a combination grocery store and post office; another was in the town hall of Lula; another was in Clermont; and another was in a beauty shop in Flowery Branch.

In the late 1940’s a branch library was established in one of the classrooms of Northwestern School, a private school in Gainesville for black students. The library in Northwestern School soon moved into a building across the street from Fair Street School.

The first Hall County bookmobile was delivered in early February of 1950. The bookmobile was originally stocked with some 1,000 to 1,200 books. The bookmobile proved popular. In the first year of its operation the library circulation increased by more than 20,000 books, 14,505 of which were loaned from the bookmobile.

The quest for better facilities and a larger budget began in 1956 with a bond issue for the construction of a new library building. The vote ended in a tie, and the judge ruled against the bond. In April of 1958, another bond issue was voted down. This particular bond would have added a library wing to the existing courthouse. According to an article in The Daily Times, the patrons of Hall County did not take the defeat well, displaying a proclamation and a funeral wreath on the library doors. The proclamation said, “… We declare a period of mourning for, 1. Lack of support, and 2. Lack of public interest.”

Hall and Lumpkin counties combined their efforts in 1953 to form the Chestatee Regional Library. The library was named after the Chestatee River that connects the counties. Chestatee is a Cherokee word meaning “fire light place.”

It was not until 1967 that Hall County decided to build the current library at the corner of Maple, Academy, and Main streets. The building site was the original resting place for the family of Minor Winn Brown. The Brown Cemetery was moved to the Alta Vista Cemetery on April 24, 1929. The Wheeler Hotel was built over the spot and later demolished for the construction of the Chestatee Regional Library Building. The Chestatee Regional Library Headquarters was dedicated on February 8, 1970.

In 1975, the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped was added to the library system. Over the years the library branches have replaced library depositories. In 1981 a branch was opened in Clermont; in 1991 the Blackshear Place Library was constructed in Oakwood, and in 1994, new library branches were constructed in Murrayville and the Rabbittown community.

In 1993, the Dawson County Library Board voted to withdraw from the Lake Lanier Regional Library System and join the Chestatee Regional Library System. In the summer of 1997, with the large population growth, the Hall County Library Board voted to withdraw from the Chestatee Regional Library System.

Now serving a population of 200,000, the Hall County Library System in 2008 built the Spout Springs Branch Library in Flowery Branch. The North Hall Tech Center, built  in October, 2012 shares the Hall County Recreation Center complex on Nopone Road in Gainesville.

In 2019 the City of Gainesville offered the Turner, Wood and Smith building located at 100 Brenau Avenue as a temporary library location during the renovation of the downtown Gainesville Headquarters Library. The convenient location, directly across from the current library, is making the transition as simple as possible for patrons and staff.

Funds for the renovation and expansion come from local SPLOST and impact fees, supplemented by a $2 million grant from the state of Georgia. Project priorities include increased space for Youth Services, a large Community Room, and study room space. 

The library is grateful to our legislative delegation for supporting our building grant, to the City of Gainesville for offering this wonderful space, and to the Hall County Commission for financially supporting this project. If you have the opportunity, please thank our officials for their support of libraries!