In 1897 a group of young Summerville women formed a Chautauqua Reading Circle; from this modest beginning the Timrod Library developed. The women donated the books from their reading circle to be the nucleus of a membership library chartered April 23, 1908. Within seven years their library had a permanent home.
On land donated by the town of Summerville, Jim Cooper, a local contractor, erected the building on Central Avenue. The Timrod, the only library building in Summerville until the public library on Trolley Road was constructed in the 1970’s, opened on April 15, 1915, and continues to serve the Summerville community to this day. In 1986 an additional, much-needed room was added thanks to the generosity of Catherine Peterman Stewart, a long-time librarian, friend, and benefactor. Again local companies donated materials.
The building is located in the historic district of Summerville, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When the library was chartered, the founding group renamed the reading circle the Henry Timrod Literary and Library Society honoring the South Carolina poet who, according to unconfirmed local tradition taught here in the years before the Civil War. Because of the profound impression his wartime poetry made on civilians and soldiers alike, Henry Timrod became known as the Laureate of the Confederacy.
Today the Timrod Library houses a collection numbering in excess of 12,000 volumes including best sellers, reference materials, audio and video tapes, and a large number of South Carolina titles. The juvenile section contains Newberry and Caldecott Award titles as well as recent South Carolina Book Award nominees and winners. New titles are added regularly.
About Henry. Henry Timrod, one of four children of William Henry and Thyrza Prince Timrod, was born December 8, 1829, in Charleston, South Carolina. He received his early education in Charleston and attended Franklin College (now part of the University of Georgia). Poor health forced Timrod to return home before completing his degree. In Charleston, he studied law in the office of James L. Petigru and pursued his writing in the company of William Gilmore Simms. Timrod focused more on poetry than on law, and he soon left Petigru’s office to write and to prepare himself for a college teaching position. Unable to get a professorship, Timrod became a tutor and continued to write and publish the poetry that prompted Alfred, Lord Tennyson to dub him “The Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.“
Timrod enlisted in the Confederate army, but poor health prevented him from serving for long. Later, he tried again to support the Southern cause as a war correspondent for the Charleston Mercury, but once again, his health interfered. He returned to South Carolina after the Battle of Shiloh and moved to Columbia to assume a position with The South Carolinian, an established newspaper.
In early 1864, Timrod married Katie Godwin, and in December of that year their son Willie was born. The 1865 occupation of Columbia by Sherman‘s troops destroyed the offices of The South Carolinian and impoverished the family. Timrod worked briefly as a correspondent for The Carolinian, a fledgling Charleston based newspaper, but received no compensation before that paper folded. On October 23, 1865, young William died, and on October 6, 1867, Timrod himself died. Both are buried in Trinity Episcopal Churchyard in Columbia.