Library turns the page on 50 years

Reception set on Thursday

When the Lucy Hill Patterson Memorial Library’s original building was dedicated May 25, 1963, President John F. Kennedy hadn’t yet gone to Dallas, there had been no Super Bowls and “ kindle” was what you did to start a campfire.

The building’s 50-year anniversary will be commemorated with a reception from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the library, hosted by Friends of the Library.

Cake, light snacks and punch will be served. Dress is casual.

SUPREME—Rockdale was oh-so-proud of its new library building, especially after nine cramped years upstairs in a room at City Hall (today’s police station) and it was determined the library dedication was going to be something special.

It was. The speaker was Associate U. S. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark.

How did one of “the nine” end up speaking in Rockdale? That’s all tied up with the improbable history of the city’s library and how it got its name.

HISTORIC—The non-air conditioned library facility upstairs at City Hall, created in 1954, was better than nothing but local residents with a literary interest were always hoping for more.

It took several threads coming together to make the dream of a “real library” a reality.

As far back as 1939 the city had a prime downtown lot available for some kind of civic use.

The E. M. Scarbrough Estate had donated the lot, site of the legendary Scarbrough & Hicks store, which burned in an era-ending fire Sept 3, 1935, claiming the lives of two volunteer firefighters.

In 1957 the city offered the lot as a site for a new library, then to be named for writer George Sessions Perry, who had just died in Connecticut. (The city hall library wasn’t named for anyone).

Four years later came the announcement that assured Rockdale’s library future.

Dr. George Patterson, a Los Angeles neurosurgeon whose patients included some of the biggest names in entertainment, announced he wanted to make a sizable donation in memory of his mother, who was born in Rockdale. The library was christened “Lucy Hill Patterson” and a fund drive was begun.

Dr. Patterson also donated his substantial collection of first-edition books, his personal library, antique art and furniture.

He was also able to secure a distinguished dedication speaker. Justice Clark’s wife was Dr. Patterson’s cousin.

MARATHON—Rockdale rallied to support its long-awaited new library building.

On April 20, 1963, every Rockdale resident with a carpet-grass lawn was asked to take a square of grass sod to the library, where it was planted by VFW Post 6525 and its auxiliary.

More than 300 persons crowded into the closed- off block of Ackerman Street for the dedication services May 25.

Among those on hand was Julia Scarbrough Fischer of Austin, representing the family of E. M. Scarbrough.

The library became a part of Rockdale life. In the June, 1974, centennial celebration, a memorable “rocking chair marathon” was held on its spacious front porch, as participants rocked all night, though a thunderstorm.

BIG CHANGES—Two years later something else rocked the city and library.

Dr. Patterson died in Los Angeles and his executors revealed the Rockdale benefactor’s will contained substantial bequests to expand the library and to allow for construction of a civic center.

Four years later the library project was completed. The 1963 building was expanded to the north and a second story was built.

The project more than tripled the f loor space of the existing structure.

A “re- dedication” was held Oct. 19, 1980.

By the end of the century, with technology re-defining libraries throughout the world, the facility was ready to grow again.

The former Vogel Building, adjacent to the library on the west, was acquired and another expansion-renovation project began.

It was completed in 2003 and a “re-re- dedication ceremony” was held on April 29 of that year.

The library continues to serve Rockdale and Milam County, not only with 29,000 books but with 18 public computer terminals, an extensive microfilm collection of The Rockdale Reporter and other newspapers and one of area’s most complete genealogical research sections.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

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