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Library History

Our story begins in the 1700s and continues through present day. Read about multiple structure fires, ravages of war, and the dedicated community who made the dream of a library for all possible.



Parish Church of St. Helena established a book collection for its clergymen

The first record of any book collections in Beaufort County was the establishment of a small library of theological materials for the rectors and priests of the St. Helena's Parish Church in 1755. Rev. Alexander Baron, a Scot who had most recently served at St. Paul's Parish at Stono near Charleston, became rector  of St. Helena's and thereby the collection's caretaker in 1757. Chapter One, "Colonial Beginnings" written by Ray Flannagan of Amazing Grace lists some of the titles included in this library: The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Paraphrase and Commentary on the New Testament, An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, etc. Flannagan concluded that the titles were originally used as reference materials for the writing of sermons and instruction of the congregation in Bible studies. He stated that "As an artifact, the St. Helena's library of about sixty-eight folio volumes and one quarto volume exemplify the best of the best books of Anglican theology. It was worthy of the Bishop of Winchester's private library, if not the Archbishop of Canterbury's." (p. 38)



Beaufort Library Society is founded.



Beaufort Library Society is incorporated by the State of South Carolina for the purpose of establishing a public library in the town of Beaufort. 


In the decades before the Civil War, many of Beaufort's rice and cotton planters were rich enough to send their children to schools and colleges in Europe. The young men and women who stayed home had a respectable education in the schools of Beaufort or with private tutors nonetheless. Beaufort College (building at 801 Carteret Street, Beaufort) had been chartered in 1795 as preparatory school, and opened as a college in 1802. That same year, the Beaufort Library Society was founded by Dr. James Finley, Stephen Elliott, Robert Barnwell, Milton Maxcy, and Robert Screven for discussion of important books of the day. In 1803, the Society petitioned the State of South Carolina that "Your petitioners have formed themselves into a Society for the purpose of purchasing books and forming a Public Library." The Society was incorporated by the State of South Carolina in on December 19, 1807 and renewed in 1820.



The Beaufort Library Society collection is moved to the College of Beaufort building for safe keeping. (The sketch above of the old College of Beaufort building shows as it was in 1862. The structure is now the Administration Building for the northern campus of the University of South Carolina Beaufort.)



The Beaufort Library Society Collection is Confiscated


The Collection is confiscated by the Federal government tax collectors, saved by the Secretary of the Treasury, and stored at the Smithsonian Institution.


By 1860, the library's collection included more than 5,000 volumes, about half of which donated by Beaufortonians who had purchased them on voyages to Europe. The books covered many subjects, from government to sciences, from law to literature, and from philosophy to religion -- as well as general works, like the Encyclopædia Britannica. Thus by the time of the Civil War, "The Beaufort Library [had] gathered one of the finest book collections in the South." (Rowland et al., vol.1, p. 287) During the Civil War, the Union Army confiscated the Beaufort Library Collection. All of the books were sent to New York City for auction as rebel property. Public outcry in the North was so fervent that Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase intervened, saying, "The Union does not make war on libraries."

Image: Is the official handbill for the auction of “rebel property” (i.e., the books of the Beaufort Library Society) that was reproduced with permission from The State newspaper magazine issue of March 20, 1955.



Smithsonian on Fire

The books were then stored in the Smithsonian Institution for eventual return to Beaufort at the war's end. However, on January 24, 1865 a fire consumed the wing in the Smithsonian Institution where Beaufort's confiscated books had been stored. The collection is destroyed.


Beaufort was to be without a library until 1902 and without a permanent library building until 1918 when the Beaufort Township Library opened.



Clover Club establishes first circulating library

The Clover Club, a local women's literary and musical group of less than 30 members, was founded in 1891 by Mary Elizabeth Waterhouse. On February 4, 1902, in the 100th anniversary year of the founding of the Beaufort Library Society, the women began a small subscription circulating library. The women's group bought the books as well as served as volunteer librarians. The circulating library was open only a few hours a week and had no permanent base of operations.



The Great Fire of 1907

At the time of the Fire of 1907, the Clover Club's library collection shared the Scheper building on Bay Street with the Masonic Lodges. The fire devastated much of downtown Beaufort. According to one observer: "Soon the whole structure was ablaze, and then the hope of saving surrounding property was lessened, but the work went on. Much of the Clover Club furniture and library appurtenances on the second floor were destroyed, and everything on the third floor, occupied by Harmony Lodge, A. F. M., and Rabboni Chapter, R. A. M., and in which were the handsome furniture and regalia of the two Masonic bodies, fed the flames.” Although the Masonic Building housing the Clover Club library was destroyed, all but fifty of the books were saved due to the heroics of the community. The Library reopened at another location less than a week after the conflagration.


Image is from Clover Club Scrapbook #1, Beaufort District Collection.



Female Benevolent Society

The building of the Female Benevolent Society at 301 Scott Street housed the Clover Club Library from 1910-1917.



Public Library Building Proposed

At the Clover Club's 20th anniversary meeting in 1911, the ladies realized a need for a permanent library building and undertook to raise a building fund to meet the requirements of steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie.  Carnegie donated more than $40 million of his personal fortune towards 1,679 new library buildings in communities large and small across America. Carnegie believed that "the community which is not willing to maintain a Library had better not possess it" and thus required a local contribution. He built 14 Carnegie Libraries in South Carolina, including the Beaufort Township Library.



Beaufort Township Public Library Building

The Clover Club held a variety of fund-raising theatrical and musical shows beginning in 1911 and influenced local politicians to help. The City of Beaufort donated a lot on the corner of Craven and Carteret Streets. State Senator Niels Christensen procured $7,500 from the Carnegie Foundation of New York for the building, with the understanding that the library would be supported locally. Like many of the Carnegie Libraries, the Beaufort Township Library was made of brick. Because Carnegie paid for the building materials, many communities used brick, a more costly material to purchase but a material much less costly to maintain by the local communities. Under the terms of the Carnegie program, local communities were responsible for building and maintaining the libraries. 



Construction Begins

 The Members of the Clover Club Group were on hand for the festivities.



Clover Club Transfers Lease

As planned, the Clover Club turned over its collection of 2000 books to the new Beaufort Township Library Board of Trustees when the building was completed and ready for use, October 22, 1917.



Cornerstone Installation

 The installation of the building's cornerstone was handled by the Masons with great dignity.



Construction Begins

Construction began in early Spring 1917. J.H. Moore of Camden, SC was awarded the contract. The building's cornerstone was installed by the Harmony Masonic Lodge on 7 June 1917.  



Official Opening of the Beaufort Township Library

Because the original Minute book of the Beaufort Township Library Board of Trustees was accidentally destroyed by a fire at the Secretary's home in 1927, we have been unable to discover why there was such a gap in time between the transfer of the Clover Club Collection in October and the official opening of the Library to the public on Monday, March 25, 1918. 


For 40 years, members of the Clover Club managed the Beaufort Township Library. Miss Adeline Scheper,  was the Librarian for its initial decade, 1918-1928. Mrs. John (Etta) Foster was interim in the immediate aftermath of Miss Scheper's death in 1928. Miss Mabel Runnette was the Beaufort Township Librarian for 30 years, 1928-1958.



Separate Libraries

Because of racial segregation, the Beaufort Township Library Board of Trustees purchased the Berean Presbyterian Church in 1931 for $1,500.00 in order to provide a library facility for African-Americans. Geneva Green was named Librarian.



The "J. I. Washington Colored Library"

In 1938 after the death of the prominent African-American attorney who sought so hard to get a public library for Black Beaufortonians, the Colored Branch was re-named the "J. I. Washington Colored Library." J. I. Washington (1864 - 1938) was a local attorney very active in civic affairs. His obituary in the Beaufort Gazette read that "he was largely instrumental, after many years of untiring effort, in having the Colored Branch of the City Library established." Read more about Mr. Washington in our Connections blog here.



Population Boom

The demographics of Beaufort County begin to change beginning in the 1950s. By 1960, Beaufort County residents are predominantly Caucasian for the first time in the County's history. For a more detailed breakdown of the population chart, visit the Census Viewer site. 



The First Book Delivery Service

Operating out of the independent Laura Towne Library at Penn Community Center, Mrs. Wilhelmina Barnwell and Mrs. Ethel Bailey delivered books in their personal vehicles to African-American children on St. Helena Island and Lady’s Island.



Bookmobile Service

Two years later, Mrs. Barnwell and Mrs. Bailey had more demand than their vehicles could accommodate. The AKA Sorority at S.C. State College awarded a $400 grant towards the purchase of a bookmobile. A used bookmobile from Richland County Public Library was acquired by the Laura Towne Library for $450 (including taxes, a new paint job, and repairs). Mrs. Barnwell drove this bookmobile around St. Helena Island and Lady’s Island for 8 years. Approximately 1,000 books circulated each month through her 15 “Book Outposts”.



First Branch Library Established

The Laura Towne Library at Penn Center becomes the first branch location of the Beaufort County Library system.




The "Beaufort County Library" is established

By act of the General Assembly in 1962, the Beaufort Township Library was transformed into the Beaufort County Library.

Also in this same year, the Beaufort County Library provides services to all area residents. The Beaufort County Library is a fully integrated public library system and the Beaufort County Library Board of Trustees begins the process of closing the J.I. Washington Colored Library.



An Award-Winning Library

The Beaufort County Library earns the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award as the "Nation's Outstanding Small Library" for 1962.




Craven Street Building Opens

The Beaufort Township Library building is closed and the newly constructed and fully integrated Beaufort County Library opens for all residents at 711 Craven Street. The Beaufort Township Library was swapped for Beaufort City Hall and a vacant lot in order to build a larger integrated public library facility at 711 Craven Street. The new Beaufort County Library opened Thanksgiving Week in 1964. It cost $54,400 to build and held 16,000 volumes.

At this time, the Beaufort County Library is integrated and the "J. I. Washington Colored Library" officially closes in 1965.




A Decade of Change

Rapid population growth on Hilton Head Island brought about the establishment of a temporary library branch on the Island in 1969. The facility was a double-wide mobile unit provided by a group of interested Islanders. In 1971, the Friends of the Hilton Head Library is formed. In 1976, the first permanent Hilton Head Branch Library is built at 539 William Hilton Parkway. 

The Laura Towne Library on St. Helena Library closes in 1973.

The Friends of the Beaufort Library group is formed in 1978.




Bluffton Gets a Library

The Bluffton Community Library opens at 48 Boundary Street. The newly-organized Bluffton Community Library became the Bluffton Branch of the Beaufort County Public Library system within months of its founding in 1983 in order to comply with South Carolina state laws regarding public libraries. It is enlarged in 2000 with a modular unit. The facility closes on October 26, 2002.


1990s - Present



The Beaufort County Library system responds to the demographic changes in the county and undertakes a building marathon to provide adequate library collections and services.

The Library begins automating some of its activities for efficiencies and cost savings. In 1994 the Library replaces its card catalog with a computer-based catalog. The first Beaufort County Library website goes live on 17 September 1997.



Joint-Use Experiment

Beaufort County Library and the Beaufort County School District embark on a joint use experiment in Northern Beaufort County at J. J. Davis School at 364 Keans Neck Road. When school is in session it is an elementary school media center; in the afternoons and early evening, the facility is operated by Beaufort County Library as a branch library serving adults and children.



Beaufort Location Expanded

The Beaufort County Library headquarters building at 311 Scott Street opens in late August 1992. The Scott Street library facility took eight years to plan and approximately 20 months to build. It cost $2.9 million. The first floor containing 21,738 sq. ft. of space was physically linked to the 1964 Craven Street Library which became the children's department. On Valentine's Day, February 14, 1993, the Beaufort County Library headquarters building is dedicated. 

The Friends of the Beaufort County Library provide much of the funding to finish the 2nd floor in 1997. Library Administration and two meeting rooms are located on the second floor. The Large Meeting Room is dedicated to Colonel Paul Siegmund, USMC, who was a charter member and first president of the Friends of the Beaufort County Library.



Bookmobile Service Ends

Beaufort County Library's bookmobile service is ended in favor of branch locations and alternative outreach services.



St. Helena Elementary Joint Use Facility

The Beaufort County Library and the Beaufort County School District open a joint use facility at St. Helena Elementary School at 1025 Sea Island Pkwy on Highway 21. 


The St. Helena Branch Library at St. Helena Elementary School closes on September 8, 2012.



New Hilton Head Branch

The official ground breaking for a new facility on Hilton Head Island takes place in December 1995 and opens in November 1998. The building at 11 Beach City Road is three times the size of the former branch library. It has 26,000 square feet of floor space and a volume capacity of 100,000 books.



Changes in Bluffton

Groundbreaking ceremony for a new Bluffton Branch Library takes place on June 8, 2001. The Bluffton Branch Library at 120 Palmetto Way held its grand opening activities on November 14-16, 2002.



Lobeco Gets A Library

The Lobeco Branch Library at 1862 Trask Parkway (Highway 21) held its grand opening activities on June 14. The Lobeco facility replaced the Dale location at James J. Davis Elementary School. 



First Digital Collection

Beaufort County Library posts its first digital collection in the South Carolina Digital Library. Phosphate, Farms and Family: The Donner Collection is a pilot project for the inclusion of materials from special collections in public libraries into the statewide database. The pilot project is successful. View it here.



Planning for St. Helena

In 2006, the Beaufort County Library, Beaufort County Government and the Penn Center began discussions about construction of a new full-service branch library facility on property adjacent to the historic Penn campus on St. Helena Island.



Resource Sharing and Updates

In May 2009, the Beaufort County Library, along with the Union County and the South Carolina State Library, go live with SCLENDS. The South Carolina Library Evergreen Network Delivery System, enables catalog and library materials sharing across the state.


At approximately this time, the Beaufort County Library launches a revamped website to replace its original website.

By 2011, the following counties joined SCLENDS: Allendale Hampton Jasper Regional Library; Anderson County Library; Calhoun County Library; Chesterfield County Library; Colleton County Library; Dorchester County Library; Fairfield County Library; Florence County Library; Kershaw County Library; Williamsburg County Library; and, York County Library.

As of 2018, the Beaufort County Library is one of 19 county library systems plus the SC State Library that are members of SCLENDS. 



Special Collection Gets New Digs

Discussions regarding a more appropriate space for the Library's special collections unit begin in September 2001. The Library system's special local history collection and archives unit, the Beaufort District Collection (BDC), relocates to the renovated Paul Siegmund Meeting Room, 2nd floor, 311 Scott Street, Beaufort in September 2010. In order to preserve fragile and rare materials, we post digital versions of some of our collections in the Lowcountry Digital Library:  (2011) “The Lucille Hasell Culp Collection - A Celebration of Beaufort, South Carolina”; (2015) Great Sea Island Hurricane of 1893 and Storm Swept Coast of South Carolina;  (2017) The Russell J. Arnsberger Postcard Collection; (2018) The Hall Stereoscope Collection and the Civil War and Reconstruction Stereoscope Collection.



The New St. Helena Branch Library

In 2011, a groundbreaking ceremony is held in October for a new St. Helena Branch Library to be built on land donated by Penn Center.


The new St. Helena Branch Library opens at 6355 Jonathan Francis, Sr. Road on October 17, 2012. The 22,000 sq.ft. facility cost $11 million to build. It was funded with Community Development Block Grant and US Department of Agriculture Rural Development grants and loans and built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Standards. Liollio Architecture of Charleston, SC was the designer. The building continues to win multiple design awards.



Both Old and New

Beaufort County Library launches a redesigned website on August 1, 2016.


Beaufort County Library re-institutes bookmobile services. A new bookmobile is ordered from Farber Specialty Vehicles. Bookmobile service in Beaufort County officially begins in June 2017. 




On March 20, 2019 the Beaufort County Library system officially welcomed its second Bookmobile at a ribbon cutting ceremony held at the Hilton Head Branch Library. The second Bookmobile, nicknamed Bookmobile-South, was added to the library’s fleet thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Hilton Head Library. Bookmobile-South provides services to residents of Hilton Head, Bluffton, and surrounding areas throughout the southern portion of Beaufort County while the library’s original Bookmobile, Bookmobile-North, serves residents throughout the northern portion of Beaufort County.



Bluffton Branch Library Renovations, Beginning March 2021

The Bluffton Branch opened in 2002 and witnessed enormous community growth since. The renovations are designed as a response to usage, community feedback, focus groups, and surveys. Approximately 60% of the branch will undergo renovations.


Library Leadership

Library Directors, 1962 - Present

T. Ray Peppers

1962 - 1966

Betty Ragsdale 

1966 - 1972

Julie Zachowski 

June 14, 1973 - December 31, 2003

Hillary Barnwell, Interim Director 

January 1 - May 7, 2004

Wlodek Zaryczny 

May 10, 2004 - September 5, 2014

Jan O'Rourke, Acting Director 

September 8, 2014 - May 3, 2015

M. Ray McBride

May 4, 2015 - October 2020

Amanda Brewer Dickman

October 2020 - March 2021, Interim

March 2021 - Present

Beaufort Township Librarians

For 40 years, members of the Clover Club managed the Beaufort Township Library:

  • Miss Adeline Scheper was the Librarian for its initial decade, 1918-1928.

  • Mrs. John (Etta) Foster was interim in the immediate aftermath of Miss Scheper's death in 1928.

  • Miss Mabel Runnette was the Beaufort Township Librarian for 30 years, 1928-1958.

  • Mrs. J.C. (Emma) Bishop became the Full time Librarian of the Beaufort Township Library ( approx. 1958-1962).


J. I. Washington Library for Colored People

  • Geneva Green, 1932 - unknown

  • Mrs. J.C. (Emma) Bishop was the Supervisory Librarian and Mrs. Helen Jevons was the Acting Librarian and Supervisor Librarian for the J. I. Washington Library from October 1958 to 1960. 


Stay tuned

We embrace proactive change


There's always lots happening at the Beaufort County Library.

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Thank you

The information on this webpage was the product of research and record-keeping done by current and former Beaufort County Library staff and would not have been possible without the resources in the Beaufort District Collection; former Beaufort County Library employees Dennis Adams, Hillary Barnwell, and Amanda Forbes; current Library employees Grace Cordial of the Beaufort District Collection; Amanda Brewer Dickman, Library Director, and Traci Cox, Marketing and Communications Manager.

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