The population of Palestine was 2,997 in 1880. The railroad came to Palestine in 1873, and the boom began. In 1882, the Palestine Public Library was founded. Seven Score and Ten by Jack Selden quoted from a newspaper article of August 14, 1882, describing the beginning: "A library society has been chartered, a considerable number of books donated; a library hall is contracted for and will be completed this fall. There is one regularly organized library society, holding regular weekly public meetings."
Fast forward to 1910 when a library association was formed. A request was made for a regular city appropriation of $300 a year. The title to association property was transferred to the city. The Carnegie Foundation gave $15,000 for a building, with the stipulation the City provide the site and not spend less than $1,500 a year for maintenance. The building was dedicated on October 21, 1914, and used by the library for 71 years.
The Carnegie building has been well maintained by the City of Palestine. It is still owned by the city and is used for some special events. It is one of the very few Carnegie buildings remaining in Texas. The Centennial of the Palestine Public Library was observed on April 21, 1982, with ceremonies and a special section in the Palestine Herald-Press.
The Library on Cedar Street
When Bob Parker became mayor in 1977, he wanted the library to have broader city support with more books, circulation, and activities and a larger budget. He even attended meetings of the Library Board. It was obvious that the 4,000-square foot building on two floor levels was inadequate for expansion. Expansion of the Carnegie building would have been very expensive and parking was limited. Finding a public library site was difficult. Freta Parkes came up with the answer at a board meeting. "What about the old Alamo School?" she asked.
The Palestine School Board agreed to give the Alamo School building and land to the City of Palestine for a library. The property was transferred on May 23, 1983. The city had $200,000 left from the bond issue for a building program. The Board secured a library construction grant of $200,000. City Council passed a resolution giving the Library Board six months to raise the $600,000 still needed.
Clay Cook and Cad Williams are the library's unsung heroes. Williams led the campaign, exceeding the goal with money to spare. The building permit was issued on January 14, 1985, and construction began immediately. Pat Bleick was the Library Director during the building construction. She supervised the move of thousands of books and records from Carnegie to the new building.
The Alamo School building had been completed in 1912. Through the years, non-conforming additions had been made to the building. They were removed. The building was gutted. After the roof and floors were removed, only the bare walls were left standing. The rest of the building, including all shelves and furniture, is new.
The new library opened for business on April 14, 1986, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The new building attracted national attention as one of only 30 Texas libraries included in a travel book, Public Libraries: Travel Treasures of the West. "An architecturally outstanding building, an exciting place worth a visit of its own" is the way the book described the library on Cedar Street. The American Library Trustees Association declared the Palestine Public Library the Outstanding Small Library for 1992. It was one of the first in East Texas with an automated catalog.
Unfortunately, the new building was not as strong as it was beautiful. In July 2009, heavy rains caused parts of the roof to collapse on the library's south wing. The library was closed and stacks of books were moved to prevent damage to them. In September 2009, the roof on the building's north wing also collapsed. The building was condemned and the books were moved into storage. Library staff relocated and continued to work in an office in downtown Palestine while plans for a new library were being drawn.
The Library at the Mall 2010-2023
A new chapter in the library's history began in 2010 when the City purchased the Palestine Mall to house the new library. The new location occupies the former Goody's department store space. The 17,000 square-foot space was renovated and remodeled to ensure that the library could meet the needs of patrons in the 21st century. The library opened in February 2011; the grand opening was in April. The new library features a computer classroom, public access computers, a printing station, two online catalog stations, and a copy center. The Special Collections room features rare books on local history and cemetery records, Texas history, and genealogy. Digital services include a Digital Branch, online reference and database access, and free Wi-Fi service.
In 2012, the library installed 60 new computers thanks to a generous grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to improve the technology skills of the local workforce. In addition, four new computers were installed in the library's Teen Zone with a generous grant from the Junior Service League.
Palestine has an active Friends organization with more than 150 members. The Friends support the library by raising money through quarterly book sales and an annual banquet. Their fundraising and substantial support from the City of Palestine and Anderson County will continue the library's legacy and ensure that it meets the needs of patrons in the 21st century.
The Library returned home to the Carnegie building at 502 N. Queen St. on June 12, 2023 with a soft opening and a Grand Opening on July 26, 2023.