Silverhill Library History - Article

Volunteers, Community Keep Library Open

By Nikki Wittner

     For over 100 years Silverhill's citizens have entered the musty, two story building situated in the shade of a giant oak tree on Sixth Street, browsing through a century’s literary history.

     Even today the second story is filled with magazines, periodicals and newspapers from the early 1900s. Once a year the Oscar Johnson Memorial Library opens the top floor up to the public and citizens can pilfer through the many treasures of Silverhill’s past.

     The library was constructed in 1898 by one of the town’s founder’s Oscar Johnson and was originally used as a land office. However, the small, quaint building quickly became a gathering place for citizens of all ages.

     The first school classes were held in the 600 square foot room and some were even given permission to play in the upstairs room with its cathedral ceiling. Worship services were held in its interior, services for all citizens no matter the denomination.

     But the history of the Silverhill library began long before the Oscar Johnson Memorial Library ever existed. The first town library was located at the schoolhouse, which was built in 1905, and run by the Non Pareil Club in 1906.

     The club’s leader, Mildred Hall, a teacher at Silverhill School, was the library's organizer. School children and Silverhill citizens could borrow books from the shelves of the schoolhouse for a small price each year. The library remained at the schoolhouse until 1922 when the ladies moved the materials to Oscar Johnson's land office.

     However, with the move the library came into peril. The townspeople considered shutting it down for reasons known only to those involved in the Non Pareil Club. But Elsie Chandler, a local woman whose family owned People’s Supply General Store, would not allow it.

     “I just couldn’t let them close the library,” she said. “My family just loved to read and shutting down the library would make getting books harder for people in town.”

     Mrs. Chandler, now 94, began opening the library on Thursdays, when the general store was closed. She has been working Thursdays every week since. This year marks her 75th year as town librarian, a title she cherishes.

     It was not until 1979 that the Non Pareil Club turned the library over to the city of Silverhill with one condition -- the building remain intact, a promise that landed the Oscar Johnson Memorial Library in Silverhill, population 618, on the national register of historical buildings.

     As the years passed, the library has stood tall, a symbol of a different time, a simpler time. The walls have been repainted, as well as the exterior. A new roof, floor, and plumbing have been replaced over time. At one point the steeple of the building was infested with bees, but the city quickly called for backup.

     The general upkeep of the building has kept city employees busy, currently the building is being scraped and repainted for the third time in a decade. The foundation has been worked on extensively and several boards have been replaced on the buildings exterior.

     However, the most visible change in the library’s appearance is the addition of a children’s wing, a dream Mrs. Chandler was thrilled to see fulfilled. The town added the separate room, which is attached by a two-foot walkway, in 2000 and named the addition the Elsie Chandler Children’s Library.

     The children’s wing is filled with books, videotapes, and games and is home to the weekly storytelling session. The wing has its own check out system and restroom facilities. Mrs. Chandler said the children love the room and she enjoys seeing their faces light up when they entire “their wing”.

     “The children just love to come in here,” she said. “They all leave here with a book and that does my heart good.”

     Tina Lyrene, who has worked at the library off and on for 15 years, said she feels that the town is preserving a piece of history by showcasing the library. She estimates that there are close to 4,500 books on the shelves and recalls in her youth there were infinitely less.

     “The library was much smaller when I was much smaller,” she said. “Now it has grown so much and offers so much more to the residents.”

     At one time Mrs. Lyrene recalls the library being a mecca of sorts, a gathering place for mothers with small children. She recalls children stopping by on their way home from school to check out a book or find an encyclopedia to do research.

     The library has grown, but technologically it has remained stagnant. The volunteers still sign in and out books to patrons and the card catalog system is still in use. However, the library is leaping into the 21st century with computers and the inter-library loan system.

     Today the library is open 15 hours, five day a week. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 2 to 4 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 1 to 4 p.m. There are six volunteers who spend hours stacking, checking in, and various other tasks at the library. Fueled completely by volunteers with help from the city, the Oscar Johnson Memorial Library has stood the test of time.

Article published in The Independent Thursday, August 21, 2003