90 years of Perry library

Residents recall the people and books that make Henderson’s library great
Aug. 30, 2014 @ 03:39 PM

How do you celebrate a library’s birthday?

Perry Memorial Library commemorated its 90th birthday with a series of events over the past week and will conclude with a candle lighting at the Perry family’s plot in Elmwood Cemetery on Monday, 90 years to the day after the library opened Sept. 1, 1924.

The library was established that year by H. Leslie Perry’s parents, Col. and Mrs. Henry Perry, and his widow, Flora McKinnon Perry. The younger Perry had died in 1923 at the age of 36.

To begin the celebration, the library staff hosted an ice cream social Monday.

A marble-top soda fountain from W.W. Parker’s Drug Store, standing before Michael Brown’s mural of historic Garnett Street, provided 1920s ambience.

Although the ice cream was not scooped from the recesses of the soda fountain as it might have been 90 years ago, it was appreciated by the ice cream shop customers.

Andrew Marshall and Travis Keith — students at Henderson Middle School — and Krystal Marshall, a student at Clarke Elementary School, examined the soda fountain and had numerous questions about how it worked.

Tuesday’s event featured memorabilia from Perry Library’s past, including the handwritten Articles of Incorporation, news articles, photographs and artifacts.

Two handmade dolls lay side by side among other memorabilia. Mrs. Perry had used them for story time at the library.

Library staff and patrons shared memories of their own early library experiences.

“In 1937, when I came to Henderson to go to school, I got my first library book,” Mary Ann Evans said. “I checked out two books and finished the first one that night.”

Books by Inglis Fletcher were among her favorites.

“I liked stories set way back in time,” she said.

Mary Austell said the library was a focal point for her.

“In summer I enjoyed riding my little bicycle and getting my books,” she said.

Books about airline stewardesses stirred her imagination. Unfortunately, her early ambitions to become an airline stewardess were frustrated when she grew to be too tall to qualify.

Cynthia Walker remembered the bookmobile that came to her house.

Raynah Adams said his parents first encouraged his love of reading. He described the bookcases filled with books in his home.

“I was too busy reading books,” he said. “It put me in a pickle in my senior year. The night before final exams, my French teacher told my mother I wouldn’t pass if I didn’t pass the exam.”

His mother drilled him on French that night and, by chance or by fate, a major portion of the final exam was what he had reviewed.

Martha Zollicoffer told how helpful librarians were before computers facilitated searches and filing.

The Henderson cotton mill had a community house that had a library for mill workers, Ann Roberson said. She enjoyed reading so much that her teacher had to tell her not to read in class, which she preferred to doing homework.

“When you get into a book, you get away,” she said. “And you don’t get in trouble.”

Adult librarian Jennifer Brax showed a picture of the library she patronized growing up. She recalled the stern librarian who worked there.

“I remember as a small child going in there,” she said. “The wood floors creaked. I was scared to death she would go ‘Shh!’ ”

Perry Library Director Patty McAnally said the library in Kingsport, Tennessee, where she grew up, was started by five women. It opened in 1921 in the basement of the YMCA with a collection of 400 books.

“I’ve always been a library nut,” she said.

The birthday celebration continued Wednesday with a discussion of books that were banned during the 1920s.

On Thursday, staff and patrons met at the building on Young Street that housed the library from 1924 until it moved to Rose Avenue in 1986.

Against a background of 1920s music played by DJ Alan Norwood, Henderson Mayor Pro Tem Mike Rainey read a proclamation from Mayor Pete O’Geary, and Brax read a poem by Dylan Thomas.

The group then toured the original Perry Library building, which was made available for the occasion by Harriett Butler and Natalie Butler.

The building was designed by architect Edward L. Tilton, who also designed well-known public buildings such as the U.S. Immigration Station at Ellis Island.

It follows classical Greek architectural style. The theme is continued inside with a frieze around the ceiling depicting Alexander the Great’s entry into Babylon.

Betty King of Oxford said she admires the architecture of the new Perry Library but has a strong feeling for the original library building.

“I prefer classical architecture,” she said.

The main floor of the building still features library fixtures, including shelves stocked with books, a card catalog and tables.

Mark Pace remembered that an addition at the rear, now given over to other uses, once housed materials related to local history, World War II and biography.

Former Vance County Schools Superintendent Wayne Adcock grew up in Vance County.

“I lived out in the country,” he said. “It was a big deal to come to the library. Not just any library but the library.”

Norwood said he still remembers the first book he checked out. It was “The Ghost of Windy Hill.”

The library and long-time librarian Nannie Crowder are intertwined in many people’s memories.

Carolyn Pecora, Vance County register of deeds, said she recalls coming to the library as a child.

Crowder was a tall, rather forbidding figure to a child, Pecora said.

“But she was sweet when you got to know her,” she said.

Barbara Foster told of coming to the library to do research on school projects.

“Miss Nannie Crowder sat at the desk all the time,” she said.

A tour of the original Perry Library building provided an appropriate summation of the week’s events.

As Adcock expressed it, “There’s so much history in this building.”

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.