This year, the Fontana Regional Library turned 75 and we are celebrating by collecting stories from our wonderful patrons and supporters! The Fontana Regional Library system is composed of public libraries in Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties (North Carolina). Since we’re asking for your story, we thought that it’s only fair that we share ours (and, you know, we hope that you enjoy hearing about the origins of our libraries, too).
Of course, over the years, our unique communities have grown in population and evolved in needs since 1944, and so, too, have our libraries. So, this isn’t just a historical anecdote, this is a story that is still unfolding. The “public library,” some might argue, is “history” due to the Internet, “ease of access,” and lack of time but we beg to differ. Now, just as much as ever, our libraries are “the heart of the Community, Enriching Lives and Inspiring the Future.” The most consistent aspect of the public library is the role it plays in enriching lives.
Enriching lives, really, is the reason most (if not all) libraries exist and the Fontana Regional Library is no exception. In 1944, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), in the brink of finishing the construction of the Fontana Dam (and reservoir) in Swain and Graham counties, “wished to provide library service to its workers.” For the record, local public libraries had existed, in some capacity, for a number of years in Swain, Jackson, and Macon counties prior to 1944 and as early as 1884 (the Hudson Library in Highlands is the second oldest public library in the state). These libraries were already collaborating with the Nantahala Regional Library (another TVA sponsored system based in Murphy, NC) to provide service to rural areas. The main goal of the Fontana Regional Library was to provide a bookmobile system to reach the rural areas and TVA workers living in those areas. The dam, by the way, was constructed to generate electricity for aluminum plants (The Alcoa Corporation) to support the war effort.
The “official” joining of forces, in 1944, was also supported by the North Carolina Library Commission which continues to be more involved in the support of our library system. In fact, you can find out statistics and more information about our services by visiting the State Library of North Carolina website (just in case you needed some facts about the consistent value of libraries today).
The bookmobile ended up supporting over 5,000 TVA employees and continued, over the years, to reach more people in our communities. Today, we still aim to reach patrons that live in our rural mountains (there’s more than you think), especially given the statistics on households with broadband access (or lack thereof) in our service communities. We are thinking of creative ways to assist our patrons through outreach and other services dedicated to folks that do not get to our libraries. You will find our little, free libraries scattered throughout the counties, eBooks are available (if you have access to a smart phone, tablet, or computer with an Internet connection), we still provide some bookmobile services (namely via the Reading Rover to child care centers) and we’d love to provide more!
Now, about those libraries that existed prior to the Fontana Regional System, there’s so much to say and please do expect separate blogs on the subject, but for now, here’s what was happening. As stated above the Hudson Library in Highlands was the first public library to form in this area. In fact, Hudson has its own history book and blog dedicated to the subject by Randolph Shaffner, so I am not going to go in to too many details. Suffice it to say, a good citizen, Ella Emmons Hudson, who cared about other humans, donated 80 books in 1880 to the town of Highlands to “provide good reading material for the communities on the Highlands plateau.” At the time, a school teacher (they do everything), Ms. Laura Kibbee, kept up with the books allowing them to circulate on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. As you might imagine, the library grew, and became official in 1884 with the creation of the “Hudson Free Library Association”.
Also, in Macon County, the next library to get going was the Franklin Public Library. A group of TEENAGERS, yes, you read that right, decided that they wanted INFORMATION (we don’t give this age group enough credit) and started collecting books/funds for a library in the 1890s. There were some hardships, including a fire in 1894, however, the library moved to the Franklin Mason Lodge in 1901. Since 1901, the library has moved 3 times because, yes, people love to read and we needed more books for more people! By 1970, the Franklin Public Library became the Macon County Public Library and continues to serve Franklin and the rest of the county alongside Nantahala and Hudson to this day. 
Now, in the next county over, Jackson County, in 1925, Mrs. Lillian Buchanan was becoming frustrated with having to travel to Asheville on a regular basis to “pursue her education.” She brought up the idea of a local library to the Twentieth Century Club in Sylva and they decided to approach a “wealthy local” – Mr. C. J. Harris about providing some funding for the project. He agreed and after raising funds alongside the community, Mrs. Buchanan managed the library for the following five years.
The Marianna Black Library in Swain County, where the Fontana Regional Library Headquarters is currently located, was also founded by an amazing human who cared about other humans named, yes, you guessed it, Marianna Black. In 1929, as a volunteer, she started circulating books out of two suitcases in Bryson City. The Marianna Black Library has an awesome history video that you should watch that explains more.
The final two libraries to join the Fontana Regional Library system come after the “unification of 1944.” The first was the Nantahala Community Library which started coming together in 1986 with the help of wonderful, local volunteers (yes, those people again) who saw the need for information in the very isolated town of Topton. The final, the Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library, was officially opened in 1994. It’s actually their 25th Anniversary! And, guess what, they were also formed by a group of awesome humans (volunteers) who care about other humans including the Johannsen family and the Carlton family. There is a blog about ACCCL that explains more!
So, basically, libraries have been enriching the lives of our community members since 1884 and the formation of the Fontana Regional Library has only helped to spread information and enrichment since 1944. We are proud to continue our mission by providing the “the public of Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties with excellent service and convenient access to resources for their educational, informational, and recreational needs.” We look forward to evolving and serving our communities in the future.
You can also donate to the cause here!
 W. Modlin and M. Bayles, “FONTANA REGIONAL LIBRARY: An Analysis of Its Tri-County Area And Its Resources, Services, and Future Needs,” (Bryson City, Fontana Regional Library, 1979): 31.
 Ibid., 30.
 Ibid., 31.
 Ibid., 30.
3 thoughts on “Fontana Regional Library Celebrates 75 Years of Service”
I always look forward to the amazing library services from books and programs offered within the library to the vast amount of FREE digital content available via your website. Thank you for being an active part in our communities!
[…] years of providing service to Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties in Western North Carolina. Read the recent blog describing how the regional library was started, including fascinating histories of the region’s […]
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