Blackwater Regional Library, a regional system comprising 9 branches and a bookmobile, originated from a single library facility: The Walter Cecil Rawls Library and Museum. On June 13, 1958, the facility was dedicated for the use of the people of Southampton County and nearby communities.
Mr. Walter Cecil Rawls and Mr. Junius W. Pulley, childhood friends, grew up on neighboring farms in the community of Ivor, in Southampton County, Virginia. Neither could claim good health as a plus in life. Mr. Rawls had suffered polio early in childhood, and had been confined to a wheelchair for years. Mr. Pulley had to deal with a chronic asthmatic condition that kept him in the hospital or confined to his home for days at a time. Now successful in their chosen walks of life, they often dropped in on each other to chat for awhile. It was during one of these times that Mr. Rawls revealed to Mr. Pulley a portion of his will that stated at his death a gift of $5,000. would be earmarked, for the town of Ivor, to establish a library. Mr. Pulley made several suggestions and proposed another plan, that he enlarge his gift, include the entire county, and place the library in Courtland. He also suggested to Mr. Rawls that this deed be done in his lifetime so he could see the results.
Opposition and skepticism from some almost defeated the effort before the project could even be officially offered. However, Mr. Pulley who took command of the project, had the patience and the fortitude to handle people and situations and steered Mr. Rawls’s gift into a reality.
For more in-depth history there is a book written by Katherine K. Futrell, The Walter Cecil Rawls Library & Museum available at our Courtland, Franklin, Carrollton, Smithfield and Waverly branches.
Walter Cecil Rawls (for whom the Courtland branch of Blackwater Regional Library is named) came up with the idea for offering library services to all communities within Southampton County by means of a mobile unit. Thus began the dream of providing Bookmobile service for all residents of the county. After much hard work and extensive planning the Bookmobile was purchased and the routes were decided upon.
Actual service began in 1959 and the first route was set up to coincide with the second week in April which was National Library Week. The first trip got off to a rather slow start but the popularity of the Bookmobile grew very quickly with patrons spreading the word to friends and family of this wonderful library service.
The success of the Bookmobile routes often paved the way for many of the branches which are located in Southampton, Surry, Sussex, Isle of Wight counties and the city of Franklin. After years of developing a faithful following in many county areas, the local governments would see the value in building a stationary library that would fulfill the needs of the residents.
The Bookmobile currently continues to carry materials to three different counties-Isle of Wight, Southampton and Sussex.
The Carrollton Women’s Club selected as one of their goals in 1980 the establishment of a Library in the Carrollton community. Through their efforts and the generosity of Senator Elmon Gray and Mr. Horace Gray, the original library building in Carisbrooke was contracted to the county of Isle of Wight, rent free for 15 years in 1983. On January 10, 1984 it opened its doors as the Carrollton branch of the Blackwater Regional Library. It was staffed by the volunteers from the Carrollton Women’s Club and other interested citizens during its first six months of operation. Currently the library has a paid staff but continues to use volunteers.
The Claremont Library started its journey in 1980 as a station manned solely by the volunteers of the Friends of the Claremont Library. It was located in an old milk truck taken off its wheels, with no bathroom and occasionally no heat or air conditioning. In 1998, with the support of the town, county, Blackwater Library System, assorted donors, and the Friends of the Library, it was moved into the quaint old bank/doctor’s office/town hall building on the circle — in the heart of Claremont. It is now staffed by Blackwater Regional Library employees, and with the continuing support of the Friends of the Claremont Library, serves a very grateful community.
The Ruth Camp Campbell Memorial Branch of the Blackwater Regional Library had its origins in 1926 & 1927 when the Women’s Club of Franklin determined the need for a public library in the community. Miss Lizzie Mae Cutchin became the librarian in 1931 and devotedly served for nearly 50 years before retiring. At the beginning of her career she earned a salary of $10.00 a month and kept the library open four hours per week. Housed in many buildings throughout its history, the library made its latest move from the Pace House into a brand new building at the College Drive location in November 1992.
The Smithfield Branch had its origin in 1924 when members of the Shakespeare Class and the Women’s Club of Smithfield approached the Smithfield Town Council to request their assistance in establishing a community library. Council allowed one room of the Community Building to be converted and gave $2.50 a month in support. With donations of books and money from state and local citizens, the Smithfield Public Library opened its doors on January 26, 1925. In 1942 the library moved to the Main Street Courthouse, and, in 1945, Miss Cora Leigh Chapman left her home on Church Street to house the library ‘as long as it was suitable.’ Our name became the Benjamin P. Chapman Memorial Library. The library joined the Walter Cecil Rawls Regional Library System (now known as Blackwater Regional Library) in 1974 and remained on Church Street until our move in 1989 to its current location on James Street.
In 2012, the Friends of the Smithfield Library donated a significant amount of money for the branch to be renovated. Through the efforts of the Friends group, branch staff, and Blackwater Regional Library, the branch became a more open, and inviting place to be after painting, new furniture, and moving book stacks.
Prior to the Library opening, Surry County had Bookmobile service. The original Friends of the Surry Library worked diligently to get a Library branch in Surry, and Surry County supported the idea of a Library branch.
On Sunday, September 30, 1984, Surry Public Library Branch of Walter Cecil Rawls Library and Museum (now known as Blackwater Regional Library) had an Open House, and opened officially October1, 1984 with a staff of three part-time employees in what was previously the high school’s home economics building. Over the years, the Surry branch has served many Surry County residents, people from other surrounding counties and cities, numerous states, and other countries. Genealogical research brings many out-of-state visitors and few visitors from other countries, especially England to Surry Public Library to find information on their Surry County ancestors. Computers with Internet Access, and WiFi attract a lot of other visitors from every where.
In 2014, Surry County purchased a former bank building for the purpose of renovating and moving the library. Through the efforts of Surry County and Blackwater Regional Library, the new Surry Branch opened on August 25, 2014 in a larger, more modern building.
The Windsor Branch opened its doors to patrons in January 1995. The library was built by students at the Pruden Center in Suffolk, Virginia. The library has a very active Friends Group which was instrumental in bringing the library to the Town of Windsor. A wonderful children’s room was added to the library in 1999 and a community room in 2007. The library sits in the heart of town and offers a welcoming environment for all.