The First Public Library in Boone County

Kaitlin Mullikin is a Boone County native and recent graduate of the Masters of Public History Program at NKU. She began her work with Local History and Genealogy at BCPL in 2011. 

Long before Boone County residents voted to establish a library district in 1973, one native Boone Countian and self-professed book worm saw the need for such a service in his hometown of Petersburg. After having made a name for himself as a lawyer and businessman in Tennessee, and helping to establish the Chattanooga Public Library, Edward Young Chapin remembered his birthplace.E. Y. Chapin

Petersburg, settled in 1789 and first called Tanner’s Station, was the first settlement in Boone County. The town wasn’t officially named Petersburg until 1818. Until 1974, it was home to the only library in the county, housed in the annex of the Petersburg Christian Church.

Chapin’s original intention was to build the library on the property of William and Betsy Chapin, his grandparents. But upon hearing from his friend Ben Berkshire that the Petersburg Christian Church was building an annex, he worked toward a partnership with Reverend Claude McDonald. They agreed that Chapin would purchase a collection of books and donate $10,000 toward the cost of building the annex, while the church would administrate the library and house it in the annex.

Boone County teacher Oleva Dolph was hired as the first librarian in 1947. She trained at the Cincinnati Public Library, and worked closely with Chapin to develop a collection and get the library ready for the public. Despite their careful preparation, construction on the annex was delayed due to material shortages following WWII. Mrs. Dolph opened the library despite the lack of an annex, in a corner of the Petersburg Christian Church on April 5, 1948.

On September 10, 1949, Chapin returned to Petersburg for the dedication and grand opening of the Chapin Memorial Library. Besides Chapin, prominent Kentuckians Reverend Tipton Carroll of Transylvania University and Francis J. Porter of the Library Extension Service for the Commonwealth of Kentucky were present.

The Chapin Memorial Library remained an independent entity until 2006 when the Petersburg Christian Church contracted to have it managed by the Boone County Public Library system in its current location at the Petersburg Community Center. Before this agreement, the Board of Trustees for the Petersburg Christian Church was also the board for Chapin. The library was previously financed by an endowment provided from rentals of the Loder Estate Apartments and another rental property in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Before Chapin became a part of BCPL, the two collaborated on techniques for preservation of Petersburg’s treasures. Namely, the Diary of Lewis Loder, an important member of the Petersburg Community. From 1857-1904, Loder wrote about current events and the day-to-day as a Petersburg resident, business owner, and Justice of the Peace. Scrapbooks full of photographs of people and scenes in Petersburg were also donated to Chapin in the 1940s. While the originals are now housed in Chapin’s new location, the photographs from the scrapbooks and a transcription and index for the Loder Diary are available online. To search our digital collection for these Petersburg treasures, please visit BCPL’s website:  http://www.bcpl.org/lhg/.

–Kaitlin

Sources:

  • Berkshire, Francis. “Boone County’s Only Public Library,” in Boone County 175th Anniversary Historical Book, 55-56. Florence: 1973.
  • Chapin, E. Y. “Chapin Retains Contacts Here.” The Lawrenceburg Press, January 18, 1951.
  • Harris, John and Russel, Burl. “He Remembered His Native Petersburg… With a Library.” The Kentucky Post, June 5, 1969.

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