The Corning Library, Part Two
Although Corning has maintained library service in the town for only the last 38 years, the spirit which promoted the facility was prevalent when the sawmill settlement of Hecht City became Corning, county seat of Clay County, named in honor of H. D. Corning, master builder of the Cairo and Fulton RR from Bird's Point to Fulton, Corning citizens took pride in the name and the future of the town. Dr. W. B. Harb, who visited Corning in 1876, seeking a location for his family, noted, in a letter to his family in Indiana that "the people here have exalted ideas about the present and future of it." The ideas were contagious and the Harbs and many more cast their lot with the town. The exalted ideas are as strong in 1973 as they were in 1873 and just as contagious. Just ask even a Johnny Come Lately of 1970 vintage and you will be told that Corning is the best town in the finest county (whoa and backup, better say on the finest side of Clay County) in the grandest state in the Union.
The Library movement began in 1901 when the ladies organized The Corning Culture Club. Members, limited to 30, each bought a classic which was passed around for reading. In a few years, the volumes were increased and the members voted to place the books in an upstairs room in the Hopson Brick on Second Street for public use. Mrs. Angie Barnhill, librarian, opened the Library from 1 to 5 p.m. on Friday and a fee of five cents was charged to the reader.
The Wednesday Club, a successor to the Culture Club, was also library-minded, and in 1935 a former member, Mrs. W. O. Beard, returned to Corning to open a public library under Federal auspices and the following item is from The Courier, issue of May 10, 1935, "Public Library Is Opened. Corning Public Library was opened last Tuesday with Mrs. Mary Beard in charge as librarian. The old K of P lodge rooms over the Ben Franklin Store have been donated for use and over 200 volumes have been assembled from local homes.
"The library is a community project, supported by the local American Legion and the Wednesday Club. The following citizens are members of the board: Mrs. L. G. Black, Mrs. C. R. Black, Mrs. W. D. Polk, Mrs. E. V. Sheeks, J. M. Oliver, Jr., W. W. Henry and T. G. Bridges.
"As is customary with public libraries, a registration fee will be charged. The fee for adults is ten cents and for children, five cents, to be used for the purchase of new books and periodicals. The public is urged to make use of this new institution. Donations of any books will be gladly received and a list of new books acquired will be published monthly."
Under Mrs. Beard's supervision, the Library grew in volumes and circulation. When ill health forced her to resign, Miss Geneva Esmon took her post. The federal program ended and the Library was located in the former office of Attorney G. B. Oliver, Second and Pine, with members of The Wednesday Club as volunteer librarians, Mrs. W. D. Polk in particular.
The Clay County Cotton Company needed the building, so L. G. Black offered the use of the upstairs rooms at The State Theatre, and also paid half the salary of the new librarian, Mrs. Irene Hardesty. Under Mrs. Hardesty's supervision the Library continued to grow.
Surplus funds had piled up in The Community Chest and surplus lumber bought from Camp Robinson by the school board was donated by G. A. Lamb, chairman of the board, and the present Library building , designed by Isabel and Robert Wynn, materialized. The final step in assuring a permanent library was the passage of a County Library Tax to support the three Clay County Libraries, Piggott, Rector and Corning, with the head library at Paragould, Greene and Clay sharing the main facility.
The Wednesday Club is selling note paper with drawings by Carl Toalson, as a Centennial project, and remains the Corning Library's most loyal supporter. A portrait of Mrs. Beard hangs in the library and the library patrons and board feel that a matching portrait of Mrs. Irene should be in place by July 4th. She served faithfully and successfully for many years, training meanwhile the present efficient and obliging librarian, Mrs. A. D. Jones. Mrs. Jones is not a "stuffed shirt" personality so she is known as Miss Tommie. She is directing plans for the participation of the Library in the Centennial Celebration and Corning is urged to visit the Library from June 3 to July 3. library hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, except Wednesday.