Heritage, Volume 9, Number 4, Fall 1991 Page: 22
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Historic Tour of
Bell County Museum
By Carl R. McQueary
The memory of the battle of San Jacinto
was 14 years old, and Texas had been
included in the United States for only four
years when five special commissioners were
duly appointed to locate and lay out the
county seat of the newly created county of
The county seat was first christened
Nolanville, but one year later in December
of 1851, the town was renamed Belton.
Belton quickly prospered, and following
several building booms, was established as
a thriving community. The years passed
quickly and Belton adopted a progressive
attitude toward culture and refinement. By
the close of the 19th century Belton had a
population of more than 5,000 and enjoyed
amenities generally associated with much
large cities: daily mail, stagecoach service,
five schools, three newspapers, an opera
house, electricity, telephone service, a
modern jail, a thriving college for females,
and one of the most up-to-date and elegant
courthouses in the state.
One thing was missing, at least according
to the Woman's Wednesday Club of
Belton. The Club had for years promoted
the cause of literature and reading by the
operating of "circulating libraries," which
were housed, nomad fashion, in several
homes and businesses throughout Belton.
However this arrangement proved to be
unsatisfactory, and the club set out to create
a free public library for all the citizens of
Belton. Members of the Woman's
Wednesday Club began collecting books at
carefully planned receptions at which guests
were asked to bring a book for the library.
The collection of books was then housed in
a small room in the Central Hotel. The
space in the hotel quickly became cramped,
and the library moved to rented quarters in
a downtown building. A librarian was hired,
and plans were made to construct a library
building even before the downtown room
was opened. The Woman's Club, along
with another literary organization, the
Century Club started working in earnest
toward the goal.
The ladies did exactly what hundreds of
other like-minded communities did. Early
in the new century, when a city wanted a
library building they wrote to Andrew
Carnegie, wealthy steel magnate, and asked
for his help.
Andrew Carnegie had begun his library
building program in 1885 when he announced
that he would donate the necessary
funds from his vast personal fortune to
build free public libraries for deserving,
literary-minded communities. Before his
death in 1919 he had spent more than $50
million and constructed 1,679 libraries in
the United States and 830 more in Englishspeaking
countries around the world.
In a letter dated December 14, 1899, the
secretary of the Woman's Wednesday Club
prevailed upon Carnegie with these words,
"The knowledge of your interest in public
libraries is worldwide... Though an amateur
in asking favors, I am emboldened to present
the cause of Belton's free public library."
Amateurish or not, the request prompted
a response from Carnegie in the form of a
personal check for $10,000, which assured
the members of the club that Belton would
have its library.
Carnegie was very definite in the restrictions
that were a part of his bequest.
The city of Belton would have to purchase
a lot and maintain the library once it was
constructed. There were to be no frills. No
fireplaces. An auditorium for readings and
presentations was acceptable, but the group
was warned that there were to be "No
Building commenced and by late 1904
the cornerstone was in place. B.D. Lee of
Belton acted as builder while the firm of
Smith and Moore served as architects. The
brick was made in Bell County, and a large
portion of the interior trim, doors, and
windows were produced by the T.H. Kessler
Company of Waco. Workers quickly
erected the structure, which had been designed
in the popular Beaux-Arts style.
Before construction ceased, every penny of
the Carnegie gift, as well as $2,570.68 in
citizen contributions, had been spent on
The library was opened with much fanfare
on May 15, 1905, under the guidance
of the Belton City Council. Members of
the Woman's Wednesday Club were in
attendance and presented their collection
of 1,500 books to the new Carnegie Library.
The fanfare turned to embarrassment
22 HERITAGE * FALL 1991
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 9, Number 4, Fall 1991, periodical, Autumn 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45425/m1/22/: accessed October 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.