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Home North Carolina Durham County City of Durham Historical Markers Durham County Public Library

Durham County Public Library

Roxboro Street, Durham, NC, USA
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Oldest public library in North Carolina supported by local taxpayers. In 1898 opened its doors at site 1/2 mile west."
     The public library movement swept across North Carolina at the turn of the twentieth century. Durham staked a claim as the first local public library supported by tax funds. That library opened in February 1898, only a few years ahead of public libraries in Raleigh (1901) and Charlotte (1903). Citizens of Durham of the day prided themselves on their example and civic-minded foresightedness.

     Prior to the 1890s libraries were strictly private affairs, supported by subscriptions, clubs, churches, colleges, or individuals. A few of those private libraries formed the nuclei of later public institutions. The North Carolina State Library, which dates its beginnings to 1812, was the only tax-supported library prior to the 1890s. In Durham the idea of a public library originated in 1895 with the Canterbury Club upon the urging of Trinity College Professor Edwin Mims. Lalla Carr, daughter of Julian S. Carr, donated a lot at Five Points for a building. On March 5, 1897, the legislature incorporated the Durham Public Library. On the same day the Assembly also incorporated the Raleigh Public Library. Events moved more slowly in the Capital City where Richard Raney donated the funds to construct a library in memory of his late wife Olivia (that library opened in 1901).

     The Durham effort had the backing of the town’s most prominent citizens who convinced aldermen on March 5, 1898, to commit tax funds at the rate of fifty dollars per month. The library opened its doors in February 1898, making it, according to a 1958 dissertation, the first public library in the southeast U.S. (ahead of the library in Lexington, Kentucky, which opened in April 1898). The name in time was changed to the Durham County Public Library. The library, now in its third location, celebrated its centennial in 1998.

Louis Round Wilson, “Library Development in North Carolina,” Library Journal (January 1, 1923): 21-26
Thornton W. Mitchell, The State Library and Library Development in North Carolina (1983)
Private Laws of the State of North Carolina (1897)
Mary Edna Anders, “Development of Public Library Services in the Southeastern United States, 1895-1950” (D.L.S. dissertation, Columbia University, 1958)
Durham Board of Alderman Minutes, Book C (1894-1898)
William K. Boyd, The Story of Durham: City of the New South (1925)
Jean B. Anderson, Durham County: A History of Durham County, North Carolina (1990)