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The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Much more than books offered at Washington Memorial Library in its 100th year

Macon’s grandest library serves as a civic hub, resource center and portal to enrichment
Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom
Washington Memorial Library celebrates its 100th year from November 2023 through October 2024.

There’s a place in Macon where you can get equipment to test your home for a radioactive gas that is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in America.

In addition to borrowing a home radon detection kit at no cost, you also can digitize old video tapes, learn how to use a computer, research your ancestry, bring creations to life with a 3D printer, borrow a laptop or tablet and grab free passes to museums, theaters, state parks and more.

When it first opened to more than 500 people on the evening of Nov. 28, 1923, Washington Memorial Library had 3,700 books and some genealogy records, according to The Telegraph’s archives.

Today, in its 100th year, the grand Georgia marble building at College Street and Washington Avenue serves as a civic hub, a resource center and a portal to culturally enriching destinations and experiences.

A PINES library card, available at no cost to Middle Georgians, is the key to access free tickets to Zoo Atlanta, the Go Fish Education Center in Perry, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Tubman Museum, the Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Alliance Theatre, the Center for Puppetry Arts, the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, the Chattahoochee Nature Center, passes to

Museum passes, a home radon detection kit and tickets to the Atlanta Zoo are among cultural experiences available to Middle Georgia Regional Library cardholders. (Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom)

Georgia historic sites and parking hang tags for use at any Georgia State Park.

There’s also a discount card for tickets to the Georgia Aquarium and a “discovery backpack” available for checkout that includes binoculars and weatherproof guides for patrons to identify the native trees, wildlife and wildflowers at Georgia State Parks.

More than 5,700 people took advantage of these experiences through Bibb County libraries last year, according to the Middle Georgia Regional Library’s annual report to the community. The most checked-out “experience” item last year was the Macon Museum Pass.

“We are particularly fond of the Macon Museums Pass because that’s right here in our own backyard,” library spokesperson Alex Holsey said. “We try to encourage folks, especially when they have different events or exhibits up that everybody’s like really curious about and they want to see it. We’re like, ‘Well, let’s help make that visit a little bit easier for you. Check out this pass so that you can go in and not cost you so much.’ ”

An early literacy kit is also among the library’s most popular items, Holsey said. The kit is a sort of a teaching guide for parents of children 6 and younger that includes interactive elements such as blocks and small bean bags of various shapes and colors.

“It is to help them really foster that reading skill and develop their literacy,” Holsey said. “The ultimate goal is for them to be on the appropriate reading level by third grade … so they can identify colors, numbers, shapes, all those necessary tools that they need so by the time they get in school, they’re not trying to figure out which one’s the red crayon – they already know.”

Celebrating the Centennial

Washington Memorial Library celebrated the beginning of its 100th year with a party Nov. 9 featuring cake and a band.

The library was a gift to Macon from Ellen Washington Bellamy, benefactress and daughter of a former mayor. Bellamy donated the land and $80,000 for the library to honor her late brother, Hugh Vernon Washington.

The library opened a few years later than expected as World War I delayed construction by W.J. Beeland, according to The Telegraph’s archives. The building was designed by Elliott Dunwody Jr.

Washington Memorial Library as pictured in a 1925 edition of The Telegraph. (Telegraph archives)

When the cornerstone for the building was laid in 1919, Wesleyan College and Mercer University students were among those especially invited to the ceremony. Wesleyan College – Bellamy’s alma mater – was located where the current U.S. Post Office is currently but it relocated to the county’s north side after it was destroyed in a fire in 1963.

A Telegraph report about the cornerstone ceremony stated, “The fact that Macon is to have a library building at last, a real library that will be the show place of the city, one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful in the country, is making its impression on the people and swelling civic pride to tremendous proportions.”

Bellamy died at age 84, two years after the library opened.

“She sat repose up in the reading room until she was taken to the church for the funeral,” Muriel Jackson, head of the library’s genealogical and historical room, said of Bellamy.

Jackson estimates hundreds of thousands of people have used the library’s robust genealogy department over the past century and discovered facts about their family history they otherwise may not have known.

“We’re one of the best genealogy libraries in the country, the best in the Southeast,” Jackson said. “If you find that your grandfather had a pawn shop, we got a book on the history of pawnshops. How did it evolve, how he might have gotten into it or something.”

The genealogical collection covers the original 13 colonies, a variety of states and even some foreign collections.

For the first 45 years, the library was for white people only.

“African Americans could have come here, but you had to have a police escort to follow you around as you touched and looked at things,” Jackson said.

That changed in 1970 when U.S. Federal Court Judge W. A. Bootle ordered Bibb County and its public schools to racially integrate. Amelia Hutchings Library, the Black library on Madison Street, closed in 1968 and its collection was merged with that of Washington Library.

“We did not have the same type of integration with libraries, like places like Albany did, where the students did a sit-in and so forth and were arrested,” Jackson said. “It was a women’s group, a federated women’s group, and various individuals, they could come together and discuss things. So they worked quietly to get it done. It wasn’t as dramatic.”

Herbert Tuggle, a librarian at Amelia Hutchings Library, began developing an African American heritage collection in 1959, according to The Telegraph’s archives. When Hutchings Library closed, Tuggle moved along with the collection to Washington Memorial Library and became the library’s first Black head of reference services. The Black heritage collection is named in his honor.

Holsey said more events are being planned to celebrate the library’s centennial year through October.

Postcard featuring Washington Memorial Library in Macon ~1930-45. (Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Postcard Collection)

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].

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