LOOKING BACK: The early days of the Brown County Public Library

looking back library
The first known library was upstairs in the red brick building. Downstairs was Genolin Pharmacy. | Brown County Archives

The first public library was established shortly after the village of Nashville was platted.

Lots were sold at public auction, with 10 percent of the proceeds going to the establishment and maintaining of a public library. By 1840, the library fund carried a large sum for that early time, of $177.60. Soon after, books were purchased for the first Brown County Public Library.

Early records do not tell of the demise of this library, but somewhere between 1884 and 1919, it appears to have perished.

Interested villagers petitioned the town of Nashville and a new library was established. The first regular meeting of the library board was held December 1919 at the Methodist parsonage in January 1920 with the Rev. John Ragle. The first entry in their book of minutes read: “Members of the first library board appointed as follows: Mrs. Ola Genolin (secretary and treasurer) and Mrs. Ada Shultz — county government members; John T. Bond and William J. Vawter (vice president) — town board members; William Coffee and Reverend John Ragle (president).”

The library began operation upstairs in a brick building owned by T.D. Calvin, opposite the courthouse. A little more than a year later, the location was changed to the Masonic banquet hall in what is now the Village Green building on West Main Street. It remained there until 1949, when it moved to a new library building on Jefferson Street opposite the Methodist church, in the building where the public restrooms are now.

Many of the longtime residents of the county will always think of Mrs. Helen Allison when the library is mentioned. This quiet, pleasant-mannered little lady served as librarian for 34 years. When she began her duties, the library contained but a few hundred volumes, and the salary was $2 per week. The library was open two afternoons and two evenings a week. She loyally followed the slow growth of the library through the years, and was able to enjoy a short period as librarian in the new building before illness caused her retirement in 1952.

While the library began as a town library, its services were extended to the entire county the following year, and it has since been tax-supported. To give greater service to the county, the library board decided to place books in “out-stations.” A hundred books were placed in homes of various people in different sections of the county, who were paid for acting as librarians in these out-stations.

Mrs. Edna Frazier became librarian after the retirement of Mrs. Allison. She emphasized the work Mrs. Allison began, particularly in the services to the schools. A summer reading club for grade school children was initiated in 1950 to stimulate their reading during the summer months. The library board sponsored a party for the reading club members. Eighty-four pupils and 24 mothers attended.

(Part of this story appeared in the Brown County Democrat in 1955.)

— Pauline Hoover, Brown County Historical Society