Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.
While strolling through the book and magazine aisle of Wal-Mart recently (yes, I have time to do that now!), I came across a lone copy “Riders of the Purple Sage” by Zane Grey. It brought back a flood of memories about the public library that I frequented while growing up.
The Faulkner-Van Buren Regional Library was located on the courthouse grounds where the Faulkner County Museum is now located. The building was the county jail before it became the library’s permanent location. In 1938 it underwent a four month renovation by a WPA crew to transform it from a jail to a library.
The building was stuccoed and the front porch removed. Garden club members landscaped the grounds while craftsmen built and finished the shelves and furniture inside. The formal opening was held on February 9, 1939. The building was painted green when I visited. It also had another entrance and windows looking out on Locust Street.
When Judge William Harper signed over the building to become the library, he also set up a library board and the City of Conway voted $100 per month to pay the salary of the librarian. Librarians came and went for a while but in 1942, Mrs. Dula Reid became the librarian. She was assisted by Miss Julia Gwin, who started working there in 1943. Both would serve the reading patrons until 1980.
My earliest memories of the library included the extensive children’s section. It was located in the area where the museum exhibits are today. The circulation desk where Mrs. Reid and Miss Julia worked was just to the left as you entered the room. This magical place introduced me and many area children to people and places beyond Conway.
Right across from the circulation desk was a low shelf that became my favorite place to stop. It was there that I found the inch-thick, red-and-white bound biographies that would spark my interest in history. From them, I learned about the lives of Presidents and other famous people.
As I grew older, I began to venture into the other rooms. When you first entered the library through the arched entrance on the south, you could turn left and enter the large room that held the adult books. Here I found the massive “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” that I read one summer while in junior high. Here were the written plays of Rodgers and Hammerstein that fed my fascination with their musicals.
It was also in that room that I found “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers” by Maria Trapp (1949). As I was checking it out that day, Miss Julia told me a story I still remember today. She said that the Trapp Family Singers came to Conway during the 1940s and performed at Ida Waldron Auditorium. The family stayed at the Hotel Bachelor, renting an entire floor for the large family. At the time, she was renting a room a floor below. She told me the children ran around a lot which created a lot of thumping noise above her room.
As a teenager, I migrated to the books in the foyer. This was where I found the extensive collection of Grace Livingston Hill’s romances as well the books by Zane Grey, one of my Dad’s favorite authors. With his encouragement, I read “Riders of the Purple Sage.” It sparked my interest in all things western. I like to travel out West and when I can’t, I read a book that can take me there.