|Volume 59 Number 3
History of the Cheatham County Public Library
Janet Batson, Former Director
Glenda Jacoway, Former Director
Jackie Strunk, First and Former Director
Sarah Andrews, Archivist, Friends of the Cheatham County Public Library
The seeds of the Cheatham County Public Library in Ashland City, TN, were sown as early as 1955, thanks to the Federal Library Service Act. The Act provided for a 2-year demonstration of library services to rural counties which were not yet a part of the State Regional Library system. During those two years, local expenses of operating the county library would be paid with federal funds. Funding of $4,784 would be available during each of the two-year operations with the county which then was required to appropriate local funds to pay expenses in order to continue regional service. In meetings with Cheatham County officials and Dr. Gibbs, the possibilities and needs of library services for the county were discussed.
Meetings began in earnest in 1961 with the county being represented by Jimmy Lockert of Lockert Drug and his father, a member of the county court and state legislature. Mary Nelson Bates, Assistant Director of the Tennessee State Library & Archives, and Mrs. Julia Martin, Director of the Warioto Regional Library Center in Clarksville, at the request of Jack Boyd, local attorney and clerk of the Tennessee Supreme Court, visited the local Lions Club about the public library possibility. Further contacts were made with Judge Neil Robertson, county judge in Cheatham County, and Mary Elizabeth Jean, home demonstration agent. It was agreed by Mrs. Martin, Mrs. Bates and Judge Robertson that current courthouse construction would prevent successful operation of the library, so further efforts on the project were delayed until the 1963 library demonstration cycle.
The project was revived in April 1962 with a phone call from Mrs. Bess Jordan to Mrs. Bates expressing the community’s continued enthusiasm for a public library. Mrs. Bates then met with Jaycee member Roger Binkley for him to bring awareness of the Tennessee Regional Library System and the library demonstration to local citizens and civic organizations and to formalize a plan to present to the county court. Submission of applications to the state and formalizing a court-appointed library board followed.
Continued talks and meetings kept enthusiasm high throughout the year, and in April 1963, in a series of meetings with Mrs. Bates, Jack Boyd, Jaycees President Grant Winters and local attorney Bill Baker, every member of the county court was approached, and the application was presented to the county court.
Judge Neil Robertson sent the application to the Warioto Regional Library Center in April 1963, and on April 8, 1963, the county court appointed what was to be Cheatham County’s first library board: Mrs. Mildred Mays of Kingston Springs, Mrs. Helen Robinson of Pegram, Mrs. Mildred Morris of Ashland City, Mr. Bill Ellis of Pleasant View, Mr. Roger Binkley of Ashland City, Mrs. Effie M. Fielder of Ashland City and Mr. Dennis Blankenship of Ashland City. As this would be a new board, there were no appointees to the Warioto Regional Library Board.
Funding allowed for only two applications to be accepted in that year; and, unfortunately, Cheatham County’s application was the third to be received, right behind Cannon and Cumberland Counties. This required a wait until the 1965 cycle, but it put Cheatham County in first position for application for that cycle.
In a March 12, 1965, letter to Judge Neil Robertson, Mrs. Bates, now under the title of TSLA Director, advised that the Cheatham County Court at its April meeting should appoint two members to the Warioto Regional Library Board. The board and Regional Librarian Mrs. Julia Martin would then meet in May to plan for the library demonstration. She also graciously stated Judge Neil Robertson, for his participation in the procedure, would be an ex-officio member of the board.
There is a gap in information as to the history from this time until 1967.
A letter dated July 7, 1967, to Mrs. Julia Martin, Warioto Regional Library, from Elizabeth Cole, Director of the Tennseess State Library & Archives, confirmed that Cheatham County no longer came under the regulations as a demonstration county because an appropriation was made by the county which qualified it until 1972. The amount of $4,000 was allocated for library operating expenses and for appointing the library board. It was at this time the county became a part of the Tennessee Regional Library System.
A group of the county’s citizens met on September 7, 1967, in Judge Jimmy Lockert’s courthouse office for the purpose of forming the library board and to discuss purchasing book shelves, book ends and library supplies with the county appropriations. Present were Glover Dale Baker, James Dowlen, J.C. Bathrop, Judge Jimmy Lockert, Mrs. Julia Martin and Mrs. Briggs. Eleven shelves were ordered and 1,200 books were readied to begin the library. Next agenda items for discussion were salary and hiring of the new librarian.
On September 12, 1967, the library board held its first meeting with all members present. Members of that first board were Chairman Glover Dale Baker, Vice Chairman James K. Dowlen, Secretary Grace Albright, Treasurer Johnny Hagewood, J.C. Balthrop, Mickey Smith, Sherry Hunter and ex-officio member Judge Jimmy Lockert. Mrs. Baker served continually on the Board until her death in 1994, and she served as chairman for twenty-three of those years. Applicants for the new librarian position were discussed and by evening’s end Jackie Strunk of Ashland City was hired at a salary of $250 per month, and Cheatham County had its first ever library and librarian! The library’s hours were set for 8am-4pm daily, except on Wednesday when the library was closed.
On October 7, 1967, the Cheatham County Public Library opened its doors in a single upstairs room of the Cheatham County Courthouse in Ashland City. Excited first-time patrons filled the room to enjoy and choose from the eight shelves of books. Parker Cashdollar (yes, a real name) checked out the first book entitled How the Millionaires Made Their Money. That first year, the library circulated 4,616 books. Open house was held on November 19 and approximately 80 people attended.
Library books were supplied by the Warioto Regional Library Center in Clarksville. Also, six bookmobile stations were set up in the county, with an average of 60 books left at the stations on each visit. In 1967, the locations were Allen Brothers Store at Cheap Hill, Nicholson’s Store at Pleasant View, Perry’s Store at Mt. Zion, Bank of Pegram at Pegram, Bank of Kingston Springs at Kingston Springs and Hebert Dozier’s Store at Greenbrier.
In August 1971, four years later, the library relocated from the courthouse to a house on Elizabeth Street in Ashland City. Then known as the Grey Palace, the house carried a five-year lease from the board of education office in Ashland City, and was well-suited for the city‘s needs being just down the street from the elementary school. Jackie Strunk’s tenure of thirteen years as first librarian ended at that location. Jean Hill followed as librarian and stayed for one year. Glenda Jacoway came on board in July 1981, and remained library director until her retirement in July 2007 after twenty-six years of service. She was followed as library director by Janet Batson who previously served as library director of the South Cheatham Public Library in Kingston Springs. Ms. Batson was followed by Brooke Mullican.
In 1981 the Cheatham County Commission approved $57,750 to purchase a new building for the library. In December, the library moved to 610 North Main Street in Ashland City in a building previously owned by L.J. Matlock. Library growth was apparent and in an article in the Ashland City Times, Mrs. Jacoway stated the library had a high circulation rate for the county’s size - 3,350 books excluding regional book system dropoffs circulated during a three-month period in the summer. Ruth Proctor and Janice Pate were hired during this period and remained the core support staff for Mrs. Jacoway until the mid-2000’s.
With library director Jacoway’s guidance, many innovative library programs were begun at the North Main location and they continue to the present day. Story Time, providing free reading and crafts fun for pre-school age children, is supervised, scheduled and prepared by the children's librarian, currently Susan Scholma. The original Story Time Lady Denise Ohlman led the program until May 2000. Summer Hour, at first a local program to provide summertime structure to elementary school age children, has evolved into the Tennessee State Summer Reading Program, complete with professional guest performers, reading logs and the children's participation in games and activities. The Friends of the Library support the Library by paying talent fees for the performers.
For adult patrons, both a highly active Friends of the Library and the book group Book Worms were started in the mid-1990’s. The library was automated at the North Main location, ending the printed card catalog and beginning the computerized card catalog in the library. The library’s website was started as was a weekly library column in the Ashland City Times newspaper. Through the years, various staff members wrote the column, beginning with Denise Ohlman. Janet Batson, who joined the staff in 2002 as a library assistant also wrote the newspaper column.
September 10, 2002, will remain one of the most exciting days for the Cheatham County Public Library. This was groundbreaking day for the county's new 10,000-square-foot Cheatham County Public Library to be built to replace the 1,400-square-foot facility on North Main Street, which had come to be affectionately known as “Jacoway’s Hideaway” because it was so small. Attending the ceremonies were state officials, including Secretary of State Riley C. Darnell and State Librarian and Archivist Dr. Ed Gleaves along with Library Board members and supporters. Cheatham County finally had its first facility built just for library services!
The site that was picked was the former Ruse Tucker home site on Frey Street near Bell Street. The move to 272 Frey Street was in April 2002, with opening day May 6, 2002, and open house ceremonies on May 30, 2002. The new building was financed by Cheatham County, constructed by KayDon Construction, designed by John Werne III, architect, and furnished by the Friends of the Library.
The library today has increased in both circulation and in patron base. There are now eighteen public computers and seven staff computers. Public computers and wireless have contributed greatly to in-library traffic. The Friends group continues to grow and member participation is solid. Annual fundraisers for the public include the Salad Luncheon, Chili/Soup Luncheon and the book sale. A new Friends program added in 2009 is Bookin’ for the Troops in which books donated from the public are shipped to U.S. soldiers in the Middle East. Patsy Smiley heads up this worthy program for the Friends.