LIBRARY HISTORY REVIEWED
By Norwood C. Middleton
The modest tourist information building where the Salem Public Library began pales in comparison with the newly expanded and renovated library dedicated last week.
Fortuitous developments leading directly to today's library began when the Salem Kiwanis Club proposed that the town buy the land on which it stands for a park. This the Town Council did in 1935.
A handsome frame house once stood on the lot, almost on the sidewalk. It had been the residence of William T. Younger, a pharmacist and the mayor of Salem with the longest tenure on record, 20 years. In his honor, the Town named it Younger Park.
A landscaping plan for the park included a one-story brick building euphemistically called a tourist station. When completed in 1936 with the use of money from the town and the depression-spawned Works Progress Administration, there were public toilets at each end of a 30-by-13 foot building - and a space in between designated on the plans as a tourist information room.
Enter the Salem Woman's Club, whose members cast covetous eyes on the building no one seemed to know what to do with. They persuaded the Town Council to adapt it for a library. Within a few months, the women, if they didn't originate it, were spreading a catchy phrase (slightly risqué for the times): " From back house to book house".
Before the close of 1936, at the urging of Councilman Charles R. Brown, a Roanoke College professor and later mayor, the Council named a library board, chaired by Mrs. Chester S. Phinney. On the board with her were Mrs. Howard U. Butts of Salem, the only surviving member; Mrs. Alex D. Carson, who was president of the Woman's club; Mrs. George V. Downing; and Mrs. James B. Taney.
What followed is a glowing tribute to the tenacity and perseverance of one person - Geneva Reed Phinney. Her sounding board was the Salem Woman's Club, which had fostered the earlier Roanoke College connection.