|Volume 59 Number 1
History of the Sullivan County Public Libraries
Theresa McMahan, Director
The main branch of the Sullivan County Public Library is located in Blountville, Tennessee at 1655 Blountville Blvd. It has a strong history of serving the county’s population with reading and reference material, as well as area historical and genealogical material. In 1946 Mrs. Sam Eanes chaired the Citizens Library Movement in order to establish a library in Sullivan County. Due to the group’s efforts and funding provided by the County Court, the Sullivan County Library opened in one room of the Sullivan County Courthouse on January 2, 1947, with a collection of 500 books. It was open to the public three days a week. By 1949, the Sullivan County Library, Watauga Regional Library and the Kingsport Public Library worked together to circulate books to 50 book stations via a Watauga Regional bookmobile. The book stations were located in stores, schools, private homes, a church and even a bus station throughout the county.
In 1949 the library was moved to the Mutual Insurance building. Then in 1950 it occupied three rooms in the old Blountville Elementary School building on Franklin Street. The library next moved in 1952 into the Anderson Town House, a log house built in 1792. In 1973 the library relocated once again into a store front location on Main Street. Seven years later with funding from the federal government, the state of Tennessee, the county commissioners, the county court and donations raised by the Sullivan County Friends of the Library, director Kay Hamrick saw her vision come to life with a new building located on Blountville Boulevard next to the Blountville Middle School and Elementary Schools. The new library opened its doors to the public on January 27, 1992.
The Sullivan County Library System has grown from a small space in the courthouse with 500 books to five branches throughout the county with a collection of approximately 120,000 items. The library continues to grow in services to the community, offering a wide variety of materials in book form, books on tape, compact disc, and MP3 players. Videos are available in VHS and DVD format. Also available for checkout are CD-ROM programs that patrons can use on their home computers. The library provides public internet access is available, as well as wireless connectivity so that patrons can use laptop computers in several of the branches. The library’s website allows patrons to request items online and provides a wide range of databases such as Chilton Automotive, Mango Languages, Gale Legal Forms, Antiques & Collectibles Price It, Tutor.com/Live Homework Help and Heritage Quest. The library system also offers free beginning computer classes and assistance with writing resumes.
The library has had four directors since its beginning. Mrs. Mattie Parris was the first director, followed by Mrs. Roberta Slagle and Mrs. Kay Hamrick. The current director is Mrs. Theresa McMahan.
In 1961, the Sullivan County Library Board, chaired by James Seat, decided to look into the feasibility and need for a branch library in the Kingsport suburb of Colonial Heights. A book deposit station for the Watauga Regional bookmobile had been servicing Colonial Heights since 1956. A committee was formed by the Colonial Heights Service Club with Doug Midkiff serving as chairman of the library project. Pitser M. Lyons, the minister of the Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church, offered space for a library in their newly renovated building. The Service Club donated money for shelving and paint. D.E. Carter constructed shelves for the library and Doug Dellinger painted the space as a Boy Scout project. The Kingsport branch of the AAUW (the American Association of University Women) was asked for help in providing personnel to run the library. The library board had established the policy that a branch would be operated by volunteers for the first year, after which the need for a branch would be determined. If, in fact, the board saw the need for the library branch, then the county would provide the salary for a librarian. Mrs. Clara Hasbrouck of the AAUW organized volunteers to run the library for three hours two days a week.
In 1962, the second branch of the Sullivan County Library opened in the Bloomingdale area of Kingsport. The Bloomingdale Ruritan Club felt there was a strong need for an adequate library to enhance educational opportunities in the community. They began a community service project to make the library a reality. The Bloomingdale Baptist Church provided a five room house on Bloomingdale Pike free of charge for the library, which was renovated by the Ruritan Club and their Ruritanettes. The Bloomingdale branch opened to the public on March 2, 1962 and for the first year was financed and provided with volunteer staff by the Ruritan Club and the Ruritanettes. Books were supplied by the Sullivan County Library and the Watauga Regional Library by bookmobile. The library opened with 500 books available for circulation. Mrs. Jewel Wade was the first librarian for the Bloomingdale branch. Other librarians following Mrs. Wade were Omeda Holt, Janice Tipton and Amy Lippo.
In 1967, the Bloomingdale Ruritan Club, aided by the Ruritanettes raised funds through donations and fund raising projects to erect a new brick building at 3230 Van Horn Street in Bloomingdale. At the time of the dedication on April 29, 1967, there were 2200 registered patrons using the library. The Dedicatory Address was given by Tennessee’s Senator Albert Gore, Sr. and the United States flag was provided by Congressman James H. Quillen. The Bloomingdale branch is still at this same location with Angela Taylor as the current library manager.
The third branch of the Sullivan County Library was established in 1973 in Bluff City. Prior to that time, library service had been available to the community as early as 1949, with a collection of books kept at the Smith Drug Store. In 1964 the Avoca Library began providing Bluff City citizens with reading materials until it was annexed by the city of Bristol in 1973. At that time, the Bluff City Branch Library was first housed in a rent-free building that had been provided by the First Christian Church of Bluff City. Mrs. Bruce Huffine was hired as the branch’s first librarian. In 1990, the Friends of the Bluff City Library raised funds that allowed the library to relocate on Main Street in the former post office building. Then in 1991, it was proposed that the county purchase for the sum of one dollar the property housing the Thomas Memorial Presbyterian Church for use of the library branch. It was stipulated that the library be known as the Thomas Memorial Branch Library and that the building revert back to the Presbyterian Church should the library cease to use it. Renovations were made to the building, the majority of which were funded by the Friends of the Library, and the branch was opened at its current location in 1992. Mrs. Mary Nell Stewart served as the library manager after Mrs. Huffine. Mrs. Kathryn Nichols succeeded Mrs. Stewart as the branch manager and continues to serve the Bluff City community.
The fourth branch of the Sullivan County Library system was established in Sullivan Gardens in 1975. Prior to this time, library service was provided to the community at Watauga Regional bookmobile stations located first at the home of Mrs. Ethel Canupp, then the home of Mrs. Judy Barrett. The citizens of the community, led by the Sullivan Garden Optimist Club, entered into an agreement with Sullivan County to establish a branch library. The community was responsible for the housing, half of all equipment, and procuring volunteer staff for one year. The library officially opened on January 19, 1975 in a building owned by Mrs. Walter Moody, the widow of the late Walter F. Moody, former Tennessee legislator, Sullivan County magistrate and community leader. In his honor, the library was named the Moody Memorial Branch Library. Mrs. Judy Barrett was the librarian for the branch. That same year, the Sullivan Gardens Optimist Club won first place for its work in establishing the library branch in the culture and education category of the Optimist International Community Projects Competition judged at the 57th convention in San Francisco, California.
The Sullivan Gardens Optimist Club notified the library board in 1981 that they could no longer fund the branch’s building and that it was to be sold. In May of that year the Friends of the Library of Sullivan Gardens was organized to raise funds for a permanent facility for the library. The Sullivan County School Board gave permission for a building to be erected on Sullivan Gardens Middle School property and a contract was entered into to construct an all steel building at that site. The library moved into the new building in the summer of 1981 and was renamed the Sullivan Gardens Branch Library. In 1997 the library was enlarged with an addition to the building. In 2008 the interior of the building was renovated with new paint, shelving and carpet. After Mrs. Barrett’s retirement, Ms. Peggy Sutherland became the branch’s library manager, a position she continues to hold. The branch is an asset especially to the students and teachers at the Sullivan Gardens elementary and middle schools with its close proximity.