Catawba County News
It all Started with a Dollar
Published: March 17, 2022
It all started with a dollar. On March 17, 1932 at a meeting of Newton’s Unit 16 of the American Legion Auxiliary, Miss Challie Brandon Hall, Auxiliary President, established a special fund of $25 with the intent of building Catawba County’s first public library. Miss Hall contributed $1 of her own to the initiative and the rest is history.
The first public library in the United States opened in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1833. Between 1883 and 1929, philanthropist and businessman Andrew Carnegie funded nearly 1,700 libraries in the United States. Miss Hall recognized the benefits of the public library, and along with the Auxiliary, worked to open the first public library in Catawba County.
George McCorkle offered the use of two rooms in the kitchen wing of his old family home, which stood on the southwest corner of the Court Square in Newton. The first library was housed in the historic home, overlooking a small garden at the rear of the house. After a public drive for book donations, the formal opening of the library was held on March 20, 1936, and books were put in circulation in April. Miss Hall served as the first librarian. She held that position from 1936 to 1948. To make the library more serviceable to rural Catawba County, the library board sought a bookmobile. A school bus was turned over to the Auxiliary for that purpose. The first trip was made on February 18, 1938.
During its early years, the library was owned and operated by the volunteer service of the Legion Auxiliary. In 1941, the Auxiliary turned the library over to the Catawba County Board of Commissioners for public financing and expansion, and a Library Board of Trustees was named. The historic Matthias Barringer house, a two-story log dwelling dating to 1790, was moved to Newton, restored and used for the library's second home.On August 15, 1946 (Soldiers Reunion Day), the unique public facility was dedicated in formal ceremonies. A large stone fireplace, wormy chestnut paneling, and colonial furnishings inside the library reflected the atmosphere of the log house. The first county historical museum was located upstairs above the library.
Tragedy struck the Catawba County Library during the early morning hours of February 25, 1952 when a fire nearly demolished the historic old structure. All books, newspapers, periodicals, and other materials owned by the library, except those in circulation and on the bookmobile, were destroyed. The library was moved into temporary quarters in the business district of Newton while plans moved forward for the construction of a new library building. After a fundraising campaign, construction began and the facility was opened to the public in 1954. This library was a modern-style, one-story unit on a site at the corner of North College Avenue and East Second Street in Newton.
As the 1960s drew to a close, it became increasingly apparent that a new library building was required. The increasing stock of books, magazines, newspapers, films, sound recordings, and other lendable materials gradually used up space needed for adult and youth reading areas. Plans took shape for a new facility after consultations with representatives of the State Library and library architectural consultants. The result was a project to construct a new building to offer facilities for a growing public library that would be adequate to serve the county's citizens. During this time, library branches were opened in Maiden and Sherrills Ford. The Main Library facility in Newton opened to the public on October 15, 1976. In its new building, the library was able to greatly expand its services to the community.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the branch libraries in Maiden and Sherrills Ford outgrew their facilities and established larger ones or expansions. The Rhodes Room, genealogy and local history department, opened in 1986. The addition of the St. Stephens Branch Library opened to the public in 1989, winning the NCPLD Association Award for “Outstanding New Facility. With this expansion of the library system, the bookmobile retired in 1989 and the Library’s Outreach Service took its place. The Southwest Branch Library opened to the public in 1997. The Conover Branch Library opened to the public in 1999.
Public Access Internet began in April of 1996, changing forever the way libraries operated and served the community.
From the early 2000s until now, the library has continued to grow with the community, evolving to meet the needs of Catawba County. The Catawba County Library System is now home to seven branches serving the county (Claremont, Conover, Maiden, Sherrills Ford-Terrell, St. Stephens, Southwest, and the Main Library in Newton) and reintroduced a mobile library service known as Library to Go. Under the leadership of current library director, Siobhan Loendorf, and with the continued support of the community, the system provides a place for Catawba County residents to connect, explore, and grow.
“I am honored to be entrusted with the vision of the public library so long ago created by Miss Challie Brandon Hall, to be a part of making living better for everyone in Catawba County,” Siobhan Loendorf shared. “Today’s library continues to be community centered and driven by the ever changing needs of our citizens. We are constantly looking to the horizon, like Challie Brandon Hall, to ensure that we are actively responding to our communities’ needs, working to empower lives, and building community by bringing people, information, and ideas together.”
The Catawba County Library System began as a community endeavor, has continued that tradition throughout its history, and remains committed to serving the needs of all Catawba County residents through community partnerships and support.
To read the full history of the Catawba County Library System and each of its branches, click here!
Miss Challie Brandon Hall - founder and first librarian of the Catawba County Library System.
Miss Challie Brandon Hall with the library's first bookmobile at the first location in Newton.
Catawba County library (second location in Newton) and bookmobile.
Catawba County Library (third location in Newton).
The library's mobile unit in 1952.