Corbin Public Library
Composed by Diane Mitchell
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
Ada Gray Gilliam, a member of one of Corbin’s first families and wife of J.A. Gilliam, a city councilman and later one of Corbin’s Mayors, was a leader in the Women’s Improvement Club and spent much of her time and effort working to get a library in Corbin. The ladies of the Improvement Club wrote letters to Andrew Carnegie stating Corbin’s need for one of his libraries, and Ada Gilliam used her own money to travel to Washington, D.C. to plead for building funds from the Carnegie Program. Ada G. Gilliam served on the Corbin Public Library Board of Trustees for a number of years after Corbin acquired it. Her husband, J.A. Gilliam was appointed on Sept. 3, 1914, by Mayor J. T. Nelson to serve on the first library committee along with G.M. Smith, G. T. Anderson, Miss Mary O’Mara, Mrs. R.W(Y). Chappell, and Tom (name impossible to decipher—looks like Atlorgr). Councilmen approving this appointment were A. D. Murrell, A. D. Cloyd, J. H. Arnold, J.A. Gilliam, and Guy Hatfield.
On June 17, 1913, City Councilman L.W. Pulliam moved that the city donate a lot for a public library building and 10% annually for 20 years on the cost of constructing said building, which shall not exceed $6000, to maintain a public library in the city of Corbin; provided, Mr. Carnegie will donate the funds for the construction of said building. Mayor J.W. Wyrick, and City Councilmen, A.D. Cloyd, John A. Gilliam, J.T. Nelson, and L. W. Pulliam were present. The yea and nay vote was taken. The result was recorded; all present voted yea. Minutes were signed by Thomas Young, Clerk, and J.W. Wyrick, Mayor.
After the application was submitted, the final decision was made by Carnegie’s secretary-assistant James Bertram based upon the town’s need and its readiness for a Carnegie-funded library. The amount of money donated to most communities was based on U.S. Census figures and averaged approximately $2 per person. With the news that the money would be granted for a Carnegie Library to be built in Corbin, on Feb. 23, 1915, the City Council adopted by unanimous yea vote the following resolution: Whereas Carnegie Corporation of New York has agreed to furnish $6000 to the City of Corbin to erect a free public library building, on condition that said City of Corbin shall pledge itself by resolution of Council to support a free public library at a cost of $600 per year and provide a suitable site for said building, now therefore, Be it Resolved by the Council of the City of Corbin that said City of Corbin accept said donation and it does hereby pledge itself to comply with the requirements of said Carnegie Corporation of New York. Resolved, That it will furnish a suitable site for said building and will maintain a free public library in said building when erected at a cost of $600 a year. Resolved, That an annual levy shall hereafter be made upon the taxable property of said city sufficient in amount to comply with the above requirements. Council members present on that historic day were Jas. T. Nelson, Mayor; Councilmen, J. H. Arnold, T.N. Ballard, A.D. Cloyd, J.A. Gilliam, Guy Hatfield, and A.D. Murrell.
Each town chose its own architectural design; a Library Guide to direct towns toward choosing a design that combined functionality with “good taste in building” was available for grant recipients. Carnegie libraries became architectural gems. Each had “Carnegie Library” prominently carved above the front entrance. (While Wikipedia.org does make this statement and perhaps this was the desired outcome of the Carnegie Foundation, many of the Carnegie Library buildings do not have “Library” carved above the front entrance. Corbin’s Carnegie Library does!
According to a report found in the Corbin Public Library History Room, “The Carnegie Library had an adult reading room, a junior reading room and a large room in the basement which was once used as the bookmobile headquarters and then later as the Regional Headquarters for the Kentucky Department of Libraries. At one time or another, the basement was used for public meetings, classes, and club programs, and for many years the library was the center for a community art class.”
Pictured below is a group of men who have gathered for a meeting in the Carnegie Library.
Mrs. Laura Bryant served as Librarian from 1920 until 1951. Until 1951, according to a report found in the CPL History Room, the library was supported by a share of the fines collected in city police court.
In 1916, a Board of Trustees, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Commission, was the sole governing body of the library. These people received no money for their services. This is still true today, 100 years later.
A number of the libraries funded by Carnegie remain today and many of them have been approved to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Corbin officials received word of approval from the NRHP in early 1986 that six sites and one residential area in Corbin had been added to the Register; Corbin’s Carnegie Library is one of them.
The Carnegie Library was re-organized as the Corbin Public Library in 1951. Mrs. Edward Cummins was made the new librarian. The collection at that time was 3,166 volumes. Pictured below, Gay Cummins checks out books for a library patron.
In December 1953, the Corbin Public Library began a Bookmobile service for the area.
Though many people and organizations supported the bookmobile endeavor, it was not an adequate amount to finance the program. With 483 square miles in the county and over 65 county schools to visit, the bookmobile was hard pressed to cover its rounds on the money
available. Mrs. Earl Kidd served as bookmobile librarian until 1957 when Mrs. Charles LeForce became the bookmobile librarian. The library’s report states, “In 1959 the Fiscal Court and the County Board of Education withdrew their support. In late 1959 and early 1960, the (CPL) library board, with the help of interested friends, raised over $2000 in the Corbin vicinity and the City of Corbin increased its appropriation to the library, but without county support there was not enough money to continue the bookmobile. In March of 1960, the Corbin Library board voted to cease to attempt to maintain the bookmobile. By not having county tax support, we were forced to withdraw from the Valley of Parks Library Region and thus lost nearly everything that was held in the library’s collection, plus of course, a sizeable amount of cash.”
In 1961 and in 1962, a library tax was placed on the ballot and was defeated both times. The last time it lost by 77 votes. Some Corbin citizens remained hard at work to help the library; Mrs. Raymond Bolton took on the task of Chair of National Library Week in Corbin. Pictured below are members of that executive committee. Left to right are Peggy Houser, Dot Cannon, Frances Gieszl, Gay Cummins, Mrs. Bolton, Mrs. Morgan (Corbin High School Librarian), and Flo Inman (East Ward Librarian).
The 1964 legislature adopted a statute permitting library taxes to be formed by a petition of the majority of voters in the last general election and a petition was circulated with success in the county. In one year the tax brought in between $12,000 and $14,000 which was shared between the Whitley County Library in Williamsburg and Corbin Public Library.
The Carnegie Library had served Corbin well for 51 years, but it was becoming outgrown as the city’s library. A new 5,000 square feet building was begun in 1967 on the Wade Candler property across the street from the Carnegie building. The new building was to be the headquarters for the new Regional Library and was to serve the counties of Whitley, Knox, and McCreary. The building cost about $165,000 and was financed from four different sources: the Federal Government contributed 64% of the cost; the state of Kentucky provided 21% of the cost, and the Regional Library provided $10,000; the rest was provided by the City of Corbin. In September of 1970, the Regional offices in the Corbin Public Library were moved to the Regional offices in London, Kentucky. Their office space in the building was then used to house periodicals and storage.
This library served patrons for over 40 years, but a needs assessment, compiled in 2007, showed a definite need for a larger library building with more parking availability. Bob Terrell had already recognized a need for a larger building and had encouraged the Board of Trustees early in 2007 to think about starting a Building Fund. He pledged $1000 each year of 2007-2011 to that fund and a gift of $5000 at the end of 2011 for the Building Fund if a Building Project had been started or a commitment for a starting date by that time. This pledge evidently provided the boost needed because the library’s Board of Trustees purchased the building owned by Jerry and Billie Jean Poynter on the corner of Roy Kidd Avenue and Laurel Avenue in late 2008. While the building was considered perfect for the library’s needs, it required renovation, including an expensive elevator. Early estimates of the cost for those items came in way under the actual cost needed. It was later announced that a sprinkler system would be required (originally, the Trustees had been told no sprinkler system would be needed) and steel beams would be needed to reinforce the second level for the added weight of library books! It was a big lump to swallow, but the Board of Trustees decided to do what needed to be done to have a beautiful and safe structure for the library’s patrons. Renovation began with a Groundbreaking Ceremony in March of 2010.
Amid some criticism and one person implying incompetence of the Corbin Public Library Board of Trustees and saying they should turn control of Corbin’s library over to the Whitley County Public Library Board because they had plenty of money to pay for the building, the CPL Board of Trustees trudged on with the job. The additional $200,000 needed was borrowed and was paid back when the building of the previous library was sold to Ralph and Kathy Hoskins. The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and official dedication of the new library building took place on December 9, 2010. Members of the Corbin Public Library Board of Trustees throughout the construction and completion were Diane Mitchell, Chair; Charlotte Vaughn, Anne Hoskins, Michelle Mayo, and Cathy Dean. Brenda Huff was Librarian. Tony Worley of Central Kentucky Design, Inc. was Architect and John Marks of JMBA, Inc. was Contractor.
Many in Corbin helped the new library become a reality. It would be impossible to name everyone in this account, but the names of many may be found inside the new library. The beautiful Atrium was donated by the Hoskins family in memory of Springer Hoskins and in honor of Anne Hoskins. Leaves on the Tree of Knowledge located on the wall of the Atrium name many supporters. Beside the elevator is a plaque recognizing those who donated in Partnership Levels.
On the second floor of the library, the History Room was furnished by a donation from Charlotte Vaughn in memory of her husband, Robert D. Vaughn. The Phyllis Terrell Children’s Room recognizes the many valuable contributions the Terrells have made over many years of supporting the Corbin Library. The Ossoli Club of Corbin Community Room was completely furnished through the club’s donation of $16,000, and the Corbin Tourism Commission gave the $20,000 to make the beautiful Reading Garden a reality. Plaques throughout the building recognize art selections donated by local artists and furniture donated by Corbin citizens. All of this support helped the dream materialize.
In 2016, the Board of Trustees purchased the adjoining building and the renovation was completed in February 2020, which gives the library 10,000 additional square feet of space. Library patrons seem to be enjoying the new library and statistics confirm this opinion. Circulation and visitors have more than doubled in the years since the building opened. Corbin Public Library is a busy place almost any time: computer use is up considerably, circulation is three times what it was in 2009 in the previous building, and meeting areas are bursting at the seams on many occasions and more meeting areas are needed for scheduling.