In 1833, 10 years before a library was established in Little Rock, Hiram Whittington set up a circulating library in Hot Springs in his log cabin home.
A photo from the 1870s shows a “Circulating Library” on Valley Street (later Central Avenue), but it apparently did not last long. In 1881, Hot Springs ladies formed the Woman’s Christian National Library Association to establish a library that they hoped would help divert individuals away from saloons and eliminate street brawls.
In 1887, the WCNLA opened its first “reading room” in the Plateau Hotel. In 1891, they bought two lots at the Whittington/Central avenues junction (at the current site of Fat Jack’s). They planned a three-story building, but a rock flew from the blasting of the mountainous site, striking a guest sitting on the porch of a nearby hotel. The lots had to be sold to settle his lawsuit. So over the next decades, the WCNLA operated a small library in a succession of borrowed rooms, ending in the 1930s and 1940s at 124 Court St. and from 1949 to 1950 at 1009 Central.
In 1948, residents voted a one-mill library tax, and the Garland County Library Board was formed. County Judge Claude Brown granted the use of a lot on the courthouse grounds at the corner of Woodbine and Hawthorne streets for a county library. With the library tax, the WCNLA’s assets, and donations, money was available for a library building. In 1951, the Garland County Library moved into a yellow-brick building designed by I. Granger McDaniel at 200 Woodbine St. A children’s annex was added in 1962.
Garland County voters passed a one-half cent, one-year sales tax increase in 1992 to fund a new library building, which was built at 1427 Malvern Ave. in 1995-1996. A 4,000-square-foot addition includes a Children’s Department and Book Sale Room.
Many remember colorful longtime employee Gordonelle Williams, who served at Court Street, Central, and Woodbine, and long-serving director Evelyn Belk (1952-1974). In 1983, John W. Wells became director. He guided the library into the modern era in his nearly 33 years of service. Adam Webb, the current director, energetically assumed the leadership role in 2019.
Why is the Garland County Library such a beloved and popular institution?
The mission statement says it best: The Garland County Library connects you to materials, information, and services that promote learning and enjoyment for all ages. We are your Connection Point to the information you need, including books, movies, music, and much more.
And what is much more?
- Much more is movies on dvd and blu-ray, audiobooks, playaway devices, video games, fishing poles, cake pans, jigsaw puzzles, seeds, Halloween costumes, telescopes, internet hotspots, board games, and even Mid-America Museum and Garvan Woodland Garden passes.
- Much more is programs for kids, teens, and adults: reading challenges, contests, and prizes sponsored by the Friends of the Garland County Library.
- Much more is services like free delivery, curbside pickup, interlibrary loans, and books-by-mail.
For more information, the Garland County Historical Society may be contacted by email at [email protected], phone at 501-321-2159, or at garlandcountyhistoricalsociety.com.
Gallery: Time Tour: The Garland County Library