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June 19, 2024

Bolivar County Library

Members of Cleveland area DAR 

were instrumental in formation

By JENNIFER MINYARD

The Bolivar Bullet

The Cleveland area Madame Hodnett chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution has been active in Bolivar County for over a century. Chapter Regent Susie Thomas was tasked with creating a yearbook for the group earlier this year and became interested in the organization’s efforts to establish a public library in Cleveland.

“I was doing a yearbook for us, getting one together, and it just worked out that I did an article about the library to go in the yearbook,” said Thomas. “The library was founded in the 1920s.”

While researching the history of the library, Thomas came across articles that had been published in previous Cleveland newspapers, The Cleveland Enterprise and The Boliver Commercial, as well as a book held in the library, “The History of the Boliver County Library,” as her sources.

According to the newspaper publications, a library was proposed and led to members Kate Somerville and Re Lewis Johnson beginning efforts to bring it to fruition, along with Johnson’s husband, Cleveland Mayor Robert B. Johnson, to collect the library’s first books. The group made 100 door-to-door donation calls as part of this effort.

“They collected donated books with horses and buggies,” said Thomas.

Maude Nott said in “The History of the Bolivar County Library” that she “shall never forget how hard we worked to get it going before the day of the automobile.” She recalled spending days gathering books and contacting people to say if they wanted to join the users of the library. The annual membership at that time was $1 for adults and $0.50 for children and was used to purchase books. Chapter members raised additional funds for operations with luncheons, whist parties and pig auctions. They also held a Society Circus in the Somerville front yard featuring a wooden kiddie car chariot race between Bill Simmons, Audley Shands and Mayor Roger Johnson, all dressed in togas. The event raised $300.

Over the years the location of the library has changed multiple times.

“It started out in one place, and then as it grew was moved to other places,” said Thomas.

The library was originally housed in the Methodist Church on Wednesdays and Saturdays with DAR members serving as unpaid volunteer librarians. When the library outgrew the church, Ivy Hill offered an upstairs room in Owens’ Drug Store, now Neysa’s Fireside Shop. The library was later housed in the courthouse in the late 1930s with the Board of Supervisors voting to approve an allowance of $25, later increased to $35 to purchase books. The library next moved to Cleveland High School where the two combined libraries became the Cleveland Public Library. Later, when the school library needed more space, the library was moved to the former McPheeter’s Gift Shop, an 864-square-foot brick structure.

“There was a family who died in a fire, and the mother with one of the librarians,” said Thomas. “Her parents owned Cleveland Lumber Co., and they expanded the library at no construction cost.”

The librarian was Mrs. B.R. Carpenter, who was killed along with her family in a 1959 house fire. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. J.T. Robinson, added 4,344 square feet to the structure and the Robinson-Carpenter Library was dedicated in 1961, and remains the home of the Cleveland Public Library today.

In 1966, the Mississippi Library Commission’s donation along with matched local funds added 5,836 square feet for public service, and 2,180 square feet for headquarters. In 1967, Mrs. John T. Smith added the beautiful wall garden in memory of her husband.

The bronze Founders’ Room wall plaque recognizes the 26 Madame Hodnett DAR chapter members whose dedication and determination made the Bolivar County Library a dream come true.

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