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Macon’s first lending library was established and operated under the guidance of the Macon Lyceum and Library Society. Dr. Ambrose Baber served as its president.
The Macon Literary Association proposed a library which offered “a selection of authors whose writings will have a tendency to advance us nearer to our object – the improvement of our moral and intellectual natures.”
The Public Library and Historical Society of Macon organized and leased a room in the Washington Block. To use the facility, the Library required of its members an annual fee of $4.00 payable in two equal installments.
The cornerstone was laid for a new library on Mulberry Street. It was situated across from what would become the Academy of Music and is now the Grand Opera House. D. B. Woodruff designed this three-story Victorian building featuring a unique corner entrance, varied windows, and a two-story tower with a turret. The high vaulted second story contained a reading room with a reception area and a chess room. The lower floor was designed for offices.
By 1900, membership had declined. The library trustees could no longer sustain the library and sold the building to Mayor William Huff, who remained its biggest supporter until his death in 1916. The building, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, had been sold to the Columbian Building Association by 1925 and its contents turned over to the Washington Memorial Library.
Macon Mayor Sylvester B. “Daisy” Price spearheaded the effort to open a public library so that no citizen would be denied access because of an inability to pay.Mr. T. J. Carling donated the land and the funds for building. Mayor Price and Judge Bridges Smith worked to secure books and materials for the library by writing various authors and asking for donations. The library formally opened on January 7, 1900 and was named in memory of Mayor Price, who had died on November 22, 1899. The first floor served as the library; the second floor contained night and industrial schools for those who wanted to better themselves.
Ellen Washington Bellamy donated $50,000.00 and the site on the corner of Washington Avenue and College Street, known as Washington Place, for the construction of a new library to be built in honor of her brother, Hugh Vernon Washington. The cornerstone was laid on April 26, 1919, but the library did not open until 1923 due to a lack of funds for materials.
The Washington Memorial Library, designed by Nisbet and Dunwody, was opened to the public on November 28, 1923. Washington Place was the home of James H. R. Washington, a former mayor of Macon. The old Washington family home was once the scene of grand social occasions, and British author William Makepeace Thackeray was entertained there when he came to Macon to give a reading. The house was turned from facing Washington Avenue to facing College Street.
Memorials to the Washington family are incorporated into the original building’s architecture. The coat of arms of the Washington family is displayed above the original front door. Bas-relief cameos of Ellen Washington Bellamy, her brother Hugh Washington, and their parents, James H.R. Washington (1809-1866) and Mary Hammond Washington (1816-1901), are located high on the north and south interior walls below the barrel-vaulted ceiling.
On the second floor of the original portion of the library is the Lanier Alcove. It houses a bust of the poet Sidney C. Lanier by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, designer of Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Stone Mountain.
In 1923, Mary Hammond Washington Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution opened the Genealogical & Historical Room. Mrs. Washington’s father, Colonel Samuel Hammond, had served during the war, making her a REAL Daughter of the American Revolution. A charter member of the national organization, she would be the last living person to have a chapter named for them.
The Young Women’s Department of the Federated Clubs established Macon’s first Negro Branch Library in a small office on New Street.
Thanks to a sponsorship by the Macon Lions Club, the Children’s Room opened in 1927 on the first floor facing College Street in the space previously used for art exhibits. In the 1959 renovation, the children’s department was moved to the third floor over what is now the reference desk. The area was small, and when events took place, it was crowded. With the 1979 renovation, the children’s room moved to its present location on the third floor of the new building.
A number of changes were made to the Price Library building under the Civil Works Administration Program. The building was painted white and a turret was removed from the Orange Street side when the entrance was moved to First Street. The new entrance featured a Georgian portico and curved double stairways.
The first bookmobile to serve Macon and Bibb County was placed into service. Interestingly, this bookmobile was the first commercially built bookmobile in Georgia. Service to Jones and Twiggs counties was the beginning of what is now the Middle Georgia Regional Library System and its bookmobile program.
The Negro Branch Library was opened at the Booker T. Washington Center on Cotton Avenue. It closed in 1950.
The East Macon Branch Library was opened in a rented building near the Bibb Manufacturing Mill. In 1959, this branch was moved into a larger space within the Bibb Mill cafeteria. The East Macon Branch operated until 1967.
The L. H. Williams School became a book depository and held the summer reading program for area residents. The Negro Bookmobile was established at Washington Memorial Library in September 1951, was moved to Amelia Hutchings Library in October 1956, and served the black schools until it was phased out in September 1967.
It officially became the Temporary Branch Library for Negroes.
The Amelia Hutchings Memorial Library was opened in the former Georgia Negro Blind Academy on Madison Street.
The Washington Memorial Library added 3,000 square feet using City of Macon bonds.
The Price Library, Administration Center for Macon Public Libraries, was dedicated. The building was renovated with the addition of an annex enlarging the building. The building housed the main offices for the Macon Public Library system and Middle Georgia Regional Library services as well as storage space, bookmobiles, and purchasing & cataloging departments.
The Price Library was used as a public library until 1979 when it was given to the City of Macon and eventually converted into the 911 emergency services headquarters.
By 1959, the Library had added 3,000 square feet using bonds issued by the City of Macon in 1956.
The Cochran Field Branch Library was opened in a former post office and, with the library at the Porter Ellis Community Center, served the residents of southern Bibb County.
The Shurling Branch Library was opened in rented space within the Shurlington Shopping Center.
The library was moved to rented space on Riverside Drive near the College Street intersection. The Hutchings Library, which served the black community, operated until 1970 when its collection and staff were merged with the Washington Memorial Library.
The Westgate Branch was opened to serve the people living near the Westgate Mall and the Bloomfield Branch was opened in rented space on Chambers Road.
To serve the rapidly growing area of North Macon, the Riverside Branch Library was opened in rented space on Riverside Drive. This branch has recently moved to a new location in Rivergate Shopping Center off Tom Hill Senior Boulevard.
The Shurling Branch Library moved into a new 6,500 square foot building within the Shurlington Shopping Center. Mr. Francis Shurling donated the land, and a joint effort by the City of Macon, Bibb County, and the State of Georgia provided the construction funds.
The Westgate and Bloomfield Branches were later combined with the South Bibb County branches to become the Rocky Creek Branch.
Renovations began that would greatly change the existing structure. The Washington Memorial Library was remodeled and the land adjacent to it was purchased for expansion and parking. The Washington-McCook house was moved to 938 Park Place for preservation.
The renovations were complete, and the library was enlarged to its current size of 50,000 square feet.
The Rocky Creek Branch was moved into a new shopping center in South Macon on Rocky Creek Road. The branch occupies 5,600 square feet.
The West Bibb Branch, located on Thomaston Road in the rapidly growing area of northwest Bibb County, opened its doors.
In 2008, the Charles A. Lanford, M.D. Library opened in South Bibb County on Houston Road. Mrs. Shirley Lanford donated the land, and a joint effort by Bibb County and the State of Georgia provided the construction funds.
Over the years, interior maintenance of Washington Memorial Library has resulted in various color schemes in paint and carpet. The introduction of new technologies required changes; from 2005 to May 2011, the library underwent extensive renovations.
On May 3, 2011, Washington Memorial Library re-opened with the following modifications:
- replacement of the reference desk
- a state-of-the-art computer lab replacing the microfilm department
- three computer study rooms
- new furnishings
- reading room tables with electrical power and Internet wiring
- wireless Internet access
- new paint and carpet
- new lighting
- Teen Central, an area designated for young adults
- computers for children on the third floor
Support for this $1 million project came from combined funding by the Bibb County Government, Macon Friends of the Library, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. As a result, the free computer classes offered at Washington Memorial Library have to date served thousands of people.