‘I do not take this privilege for granted’: Meet the Macon-Bibb librarians
If libraries are cornerstones of knowledge, what is the cornerstone of a library?
I can’t speak for all libraries, but I am familiar with one. The Washington Memorial Library is among my favorite places. I have spent countless hours of quality time there — reading, writing, researching and enjoying the company of the written word.
It opened its doors in 1923, the year our city was celebrating its centennial. The library’s cornerstone was ceremoniously put in place four years earlier — 100 years ago this month. It provided the symbolic foundation for the majestic building at the corner of Washington Avenue and College Street, caddy corner to the old Wesleyan College.
A large crowd gathered for the cornerstone dedication in the shade of magnolias and elms. The marble slab was tested by expert masons for its levelness and plumbness. The national anthem was played. A chaplain oversaw the pouring of oil, corn and wine — almost like a baptism — representing peace, bounty and refreshment.
The star attraction was a treasure box with curious contents, filled and sealed beneath the stone. Think of a time capsule, without a vault to open a century later and unlock those pieces of the past.
The box contains dozens of items, including photographs, letters, coins, catalogs, poems and newspaper articles. There were buttons, cuffs and a belt buckle, a hand-painted Easter cross, a family Bible and heart made of hair. There was a clover leaf, a splinter from a ship, a wooden replica of Fort Hawkins (the birthplace of Macon) and Teddy Roosevelt’s autograph.
April will be an eventful month for the Washington Memorial Library, the flagship of the Middle Georgia Regional Library system. The Friends of the Library semi-annual old book sale starts Thursday, April 4 and runs through Saturday at Riverstreet Corners. More than 54,000 books in 75 categories will be available at Macon’s largest literary yard sale. Since 1966, the Friends of the Library has contributed more than $1 million to local libraries from proceeds of the sale.
That will be followed by National Library Week April 7-14, and the April 19 grand opening of the new Jones County Library on Railroad Street in Gray. Then, on April 26, the 100th anniversary of the cornerstone will be recognized at a formal ceremony.
You might assume the Washington Library — flanked by Washington Avenue and Washington Park — was named after our nation’s first president. Not exactly, although members of the Washington family were descendants of George Washington, who never made it to the Cherry Blossom Festival but once confessed to chopping down a cherry tree.
April also is the birthday month of library’s namesake, Hugh Vernon Washington, who was born on April 2, 1861. He was the son of James Henry Russell Washington and Mary Ann Hammond Washington, two of the city’s prominent citizens. His father was mayor of Macon in the 1850s. Hugh Washington was a lawyer and gifted orator. He was so well-respected a friend once described his life as “clean as a hounds tooth, and his every thought and act were for the betterment of mankind.’’
His sister, Ellen Washington Bellamy, wanted to ensure his legacy with a permanent memorial. She gave the city the property at Washington and College — site of the former Washington homeplace — and donated $50,000 to build the library.
When it opened on Nov. 28, 1923, it had 3,700 books on its shelves. Now, it is the home of 127,000 print books, 3,700 audio books and 2,560 DVDs and its genealogy department has 32,000 volumes and 24,000 microforms.
The cornerstone has held well, solid and stout for a century.
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.