The story of the George Coon Public Library dates back over a hundred years to a few diligent women whose rugged determination and burning desire to establish a community library. In 1913, the Princeton Collegiate Institute transformed into Princeton High School, and Mrs. J.A.H. Miller, who was a teacher at the college, helped to secure a thousand volumes of books and furniture to help start the library.
For the next fifteen years, support for an established library grew, yet the funding just wasn’t there to dedicate to an actual library. The book collection moved from above the old Eldred Hardware store to a structure supervised by two literary clubs in the community: the Book Lovers and the Gradatim Club.
Just as the library seemed destined to be closed, the two literary clubs became incorporated into the Library League and negotiated the usage of a house located just off of Main Street that happened to be owned by Mr. George Coon.
Efforts to get funding for the library met a lot of resistance, culminating in a public demonstration on the Court House Square. Despite the city’s refusal to provide financial aid, the makeshift library did receive a gift from the mayor of Princeton in the form of free fuel, water, and electricity.
After much debate, the city finally agreed to partially fund the library’s endeavors, but far from the amount needed to allow the library to fully operate. Mrs. Miller, along with Miss Pearl Hawthorne, operated the establishment themselves, acting as librarians, janitors, and general caretakers.
By 1927, the original George Coon house was no longer a viable location for the growing library, so the Library League, composed of Gara Seely Shattuck, Anna Garrett Ratlift, Evelyn Polk Eldred, Grace McGoodwin Brown, and Sallie Powell Catlett, began an effort to raise the funds needed to build a new library.
Their efforts were solidified after they received a bequest of $25,000 from the estate of Mr. George Coon in March of 1928. It was just a year later that the present building on the corner of Harrison and Washington Streets was dedicated, and the George Coon Public Library was born.
The library ran for 25 years under the support of the Library League and the Woman’s Club of Princeton, who provided the furnishings for the library and helped with the day-to-day operation. In 1954, Saul Pogratsky was elected to the Board of Trustees, eventually serving as chairman for 30 years. It was during his tenure that the library finally received financial support from the city.
In 1958, the Pennyrile Library merged with the George Coon Library, and they finally added the first certified librarian, Miss Mary Wilson Eldred, who acted as the first regional librarian.
In 1966, a library tax was passed creating additional funding for the library, which was appropriated to build an addition to the existing structure. On April 11, 1969, exactly 40 years after the initial dedication, the new building was dedicated. Shortly after, the original section of the library was remodeled into an auditorium, meeting room, and art exhibit center for citizens of the community.
In 1978, the basement of the original building was remodeled for regional library offices, the genealogical collection, and college classes.
The George Coon Public Library has come a long way throughout its rich history. What started with a circulation of 203 books per month is now over approximately 3,000 books monthly. This includes printed books, audio books, and now e-book formats. The library also offers internet connected computers and free wifi service to better serve our patrons with the latest technology.
We have also since expanded our genealogy holdings as the collection has grown into one of the best resources in the state for historical artifacts. In 2005, the Martin Genealogy Center was dedicated after a generous donation from Mr. Glenn Martin, who made the donation so that an adjacent building owned by the library could be renovated into the new Genealogy facility.
The Martin Genealogy Center now operates with a staff of four part-time assistants so that patrons can freely research their ancestry in this wonderful new facility.
Although the library has had humble beginnings, we should be grateful to those five dedicated ladies that persevered for a “storehouse of knowledge” where all citizens, businesses, and organizations of Princeton and Caldwell County can come together for opportunities for continued knowledge whether it is for pleasure, education or personal gain.