The defeat of the Carnegie Library proposal in a Statesville municipal vote on May 6, 1913 was definitely a setback for supporters of the local library. With the vote not even closed at 244 against and 164 for, they could not even request a recount. They must have been shocked and a little angry, but they didn’t give up. Instead, they continued to maintain a functioning library in one form or another at a location in Statesville, as they had since 1903.
The biggest challenge was finding a suitable installation. The library was always on the move. They would find a location, fix the place, move the collection and announce their new location, but in a few months they would have to close and move again. On February 10, 1916, Statesville Sentinel reported, “The South Statesville Free Public Library was organized Monday evening and opened, with over 1,500 selected volumes, in Mr. DV Ball’s store on Winston Avenue. The library will be open every Tuesday evening from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Civic and book clubs always work to improve the community. The March 31, 1916 issue of The Landmark reported that the Civic Club under the presidency of Mrs. Tom Anderson (Ina M. mother of Grace Anderson for whom Grace Anderson Park is named) had decided to rent to Mrs. Irvin Steele her vacant land on the corner of Front and Oak streets to serve as a playground.
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Edith Louise Fawcett Ausley, wife of Daniel M. Ausley at the Commercial Bank, is still the library champion and still operates a library in town. Edith is also part of a group pushing for a county fair in Iredell. The March 30, 1916, issue of The Sentinel reported a meeting of county fair supporters noting, “Mrs. DM Ausley generated the most excitement when she said it would look strange if Iredell County couldn’t hold a fair when Statesville raised $5,000 for baseball.
In 1917, it has been four years since the Carnegie Library proposal was rejected by voters and Mrs Ausley is ready for another try. She again presents a petition to the Statesville Board of Aldermen signed by 25% of the city’s qualified voters asking that the construction of a library be put on the ballot for voter approval.
The election is set for May 8, 1917. The vote involves asking voters to approve a surcharge to support the library. It wasn’t until 1974 in North Carolina that libraries were allowed to receive tax money from general property tax collections. In 1917, a new library champion emerged, joining Edith Ausley in supporting a public library in Statesville.
Mary Alice Montgomery “Mamie” Robbins Long is the daughter of Major William McKendree Robbins, an Iredell Civil War veteran, lawyer, and U.S. Congressman. Mary Alice’s husband is Benjamin Franklin Long, also a lawyer. Long is a former mayor of Statesville who also served as the city’s attorney and is now a prominent judge having previously served three terms as Iredell County Court Attorney.
“Mamie” joins Edith Ausley, Mamie S. Nooe, Ina M. Anderson and Sarah A. Sharpe, who still offer free land for the building, in campaigning for approval of library proposals. The ladies take out a large ad with photos in the May 3, 1917, issue of The Sentinel challenging the citizens of Statesville with the headline “Even Mocksville Has a Library”.
They proclaim, “If Mocksville can maintain and have a library like this, why shouldn’t Statesville at least prove itself worthy of the name it has justly earned, ‘Statesville, the best city in Carolina North “.
In 1903, Mrs. Ausley had organized Statesville’s first “Everybody’s Day” as a fundraiser for the library. Captain Thomas Rowland, conductor of the AT&O Railroad’s June Bug Railroad, helped oversee the celebration. Statesville takes its first slogan from Rowland who was always shouting when the train reached town, “Statesville the best town in North Carolina”.
The ad also features a photo of the shabby building currently used in Statesville as a library and reminds people that Hickory will soon have a Carnegie Library. Hickory, they point out, has only 1,200 mostly worn books to put in its library when “Statesville already has 3,000 for immediate use.” They add: “The library is not an institution for classes, but the teaching center and the seat of all research for the whole city. Don’t let it be said that Statesville voted against its own promotion of education.
Statesville responds to their challenge and overwhelmingly passes Library Proposal 302 in favor to 97 against. The resolution demands that arrangements be made for a library to be completed in four years or by 1921. Edith Ausley and her supporters opened library halls in Statesville in 1903 and now, 14 years later, they have l $5,000 approval from the Carnegie Foundation to build a library, they have the land, they have the books, and now they have financial support from the city.
So where is the Carnegie Library of Statesville?
Joel Reese is the local history librarian at the Iredell County Public Library.