2017-04-13 / Front Page

Mary Willis Library is tops in Georgia list of most beautiful

By JANE ELLYN AARON
news editor


Three of the six librarians who have headed the Mary Willis Library in its 128-year history were in attendance when it was named Georgia’s Most Beautiful Library. They are (l-r) Celeste Stover, Marjorie Morrow, and Lillie Crowe, with State Librarian Julie Walker. Three of the six librarians who have headed the Mary Willis Library in its 128-year history were in attendance when it was named Georgia’s Most Beautiful Library. They are (l-r) Celeste Stover, Marjorie Morrow, and Lillie Crowe, with State Librarian Julie Walker. The Mary Willis Library has been named as one of “Georgia’s 10 Most Beautiful Public Libraries”– ranked amongst other historic and modern structures such as the Carnegie Branch Library in Savannah and the Hamilton Mill Library in Dacula – as a part of the Georgia Public Library Service’s (GPLS) newest initiative to recognize both the structures and their significance within the communities they serve.

Each of the 10 libraries was se- lected out of 60 nominations made by the public, and judged by a panel made up of public library and architecture professionals.

“The library that was the unanimous, perfect score choice among our judges was the Mary Willis Library in Washington, Georgia,” State Librarian of Georgia Julie Walker said. “A distinctive fact that I learned about this library is that in the 128 years of its existence it has only had six library directors, and three of them are with us today.”


Visitors check their “passports” while admiring the awards table just before GPLS State Librarian Julie Walker (right photo) welcomes the large crowd and makes presentations at the Mary Willis Library on Monday. Visitors check their “passports” while admiring the awards table just before GPLS State Librarian Julie Walker (right photo) welcomes the large crowd and makes presentations at the Mary Willis Library on Monday. Former directors Margery Morrow and Celeste Stover, along with current director Lillie Crowe, were likewise honored for their years of service to the community.

“This is such an honor, just to be a part of this, and not just for me, but for our staff, and for all of the librarians before me,” Crowe said. “This library is living history, and we hope that it continues.”

“Oh, it’s wonderful, we all agree,” former director Stover commented. “I remember when I applied for the job and was going in for an interview, and when I walked through the front door I thought to myself, ‘now this is what a library ought to be.’ It was just so warm and inviting. It really is one of the most unique places you could be in.”

With its Queen Anne-style architecture and Tiffany stained-glass windows that depict the likeness of Mary Willis herself, the library has stood as a pinnacle since 1889, as it was the first free public library in the state. The build was commissioned by Dr. Francis T. Willis in memory of his beloved daughter Mary, and designed by architect Edmund George Lind.

The building is also renowned for becoming the first library in Georgia to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as for currently housing the chest that last held the “lost Confederate gold” in its original vestibule. It is also the headquarters of the Bartram Trail Regional Library System.

Additionally, the Mary Willis has been included in an official GPLS “Passport,” or guide book, which sets to encourage those touring the state to visit the many beautiful libraries throughout Georgia as a part of the “10 Most Beautiful” campaign. With this passport, guests can also collect 10 different stamps from the libraries listed when they visit them.

“We think this will be a wonderful encouragement for people to seek out these libraries as they travel around Georgia this summer,” Walker said.

Other libraries on that list include the Carnegie Branch Library in Savannah, built in 1914; the Washington Memorial Library in Macon, built in 1923; the St. Simons Island Public Library, built in 1937; the Buckhead Branch Library in Atlanta, built in 1989; the Columbus Public Library, built in 2005; the Hamilton Mill Library in Dacula, but in 2011; the Dog River Public Library in Douglasville, built in 2011; the Porter Memorial Library in Covington, built in 2011; and the Metropolitan Library in Atlanta, built in 2015.

“We really had wonderful nominations, and wonderful discussions to try and narrow this list down to the 10 most beautiful libraries,” Walker said. “They were judged on their overall design, both in form and function, as well as for their interior and exterior styles and sense of timelessness. We wanted to recognize libraries that were innovative for the time, as well as those whose design reflects and serves their respective communities.”

This was the first time that GPLS has showcased a “10 most beautiful libraries” list, and with over 400 libraries scattered throughout the state of Georgia, Director Walker encouraged everyone to not only visit the “10 most beautiful,” but to lend support to each and everyone one possible.

“I just want to say how fortunate we are in Georgia. The people who run our libraries and govern our libraries, who are our friends, and our trustees, and our staff members, are some of the most dedicated, committed, passionate people in the state of Georgia. I am so proud of every single one of them, and we are so fortunate,” Walker likewise commented. “While we’re here to celebrate beautiful buildings today, we are also celebrating the people who make our libraries so fantastic around the state.

“We’re so proud of these libraries, I’m so proud of all the people who support them and believe in them – thank you so much for being here,” Walker said. “We hope by highlighting the artistry and histories of these public libraries that families will explore and learn. Once people experience this architecture, the scenery, and the friendly faces that they’ll encounter when they pop in, I’m confident that they’ll fall under the spell of these 10 community treasures and be impressed by the immense pride and joy that the libraries’ staffs take in them.”

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Well-deserved!

Well-deserved! Congratulations! -Reba Griffith