Sevier County Public Library History

A History of the Sevier County Public Library System
by Kaurri C. Williams and Theresa Williams

Fred P. Rawlings, a prominent Sevierville businessman, held to the belief that the citizens of Sevier County, Tennessee, deserved to have a library.   In 1921 he obtained an indefinite loan of 200 books from the War Surplus Department of the American Library Association to begin a library in Sevier County.  He went on to persuade a group of local citizens to pledge up to $10 each for the purchase of books and was successful in convincing fifty-four people to donate a total of $233.50.  In addition, he donated books from his private collection.  He talked the Sevierville Masonic Lodge leaders into donating space in the Masonic Temple building in downtown Sevierville.  They agreed that a room on the lower floor of the lodge could be used to house the library.  An official library committee was created with Fred Rawlings, George W. Wynn, J. R. Wade, and Victor. C. Stafford as members.   They used volunteers to open the doors to the public two afternoons a week, officially beginning the Sevierville Public Library (News-Record, 1958).

Books for the new library, which were cataloged by the Library Science Department at the University of Tennessee, were delivered to Sevierville from Knoxville, Tennessee, in the back of a Rawlings Funeral Home hearse.   When the doors opened in 1922, the Sevierville Public Library had a total of 200 books, $105, and a handful of dedicated citizens to “man” the desk.  The group of library volunteers who “manned” the library included Mrs. Stanley McMahan, Mrs. J. C. Trotter, Mrs. Roy Cox, Malcolm Hodges, and Miss Edith Rawlings (News-Record, 1958).

The Tennessee Federation of Woman’s Club’s local chapter, the Manthano Club, under the leadership of Mrs. E. A. Bishop, made it a duty to sponsor the library in 1930. The Manthano Club held teas and fundraisers and continued to solicit money and books from private contributors.  In addition, the club made an annual donation to the library, and members volunteered innumerable hours of time.  A charter member of the club, Mrs. Stanley McMahan, served as librarian from 1930 until 1955 (News-Record, 1958).  The Manthano Club continues its legacy of stewardship towards the library system today through both financial and volunteer support.

In 1932 the library, which had outgrown its one-room space, was expanded by the Sevierville Masonic Lodge to include the entire west wing of the building.  In 1933, a library board was established from members of the Sevierville Masonic Lodge and the Manthano Club.  Mrs. Fred P. Rawlings was elected general librarian with Mrs. E. A. Bishop assistant in charge of operation.  Miss Elizabeth Moreland, who served as the Extension Specialist of Rural Libraries of the University of Tennessee, oversaw the cataloging and classification of the library collection (News-Record, 1958).

In 1947 the library became a member of the Tennessee State Library System Nolichucky Regional Library, assuring state and federal aid in the form of books and services (First Counsel, 2001).  A bookmobile delivered books to the library doors on a regular schedule.  Around 1950 the City of Sevierville began making an annual contribution to the Sevierville Library.  From the 1950’s until 2001, when the City of Pigeon Forge opened a city library, the Sevierville Library received contributions from Sevier County, the City of Sevierville, the City of Pigeon Forge, and the Nolichucky Regional Library, with Sevier County allocating the majority of the funds.   During the 1970’s the City of Gatlinburg also made an annual gift to the library system (SCPLS Board, 1950-2001).

In 1957 the Sevier County Library Board voted to hire a paid librarian for the library.  In April of that year, Mrs. Willard Ward was employed to serve as the first official librarian for the Sevierville Library.  On June 1, 1961, Willie Delozier became the first paid employee.  Her sister, Elizabeth Denton, joined her in 1966, and the two library staff members kept the Sevierville Library open 25 hours a week (SCPLS Board, 1957-1966).

In January of 1966, The Sevier County Public Library Board, under the leadership of Ralph Egli, created The Sevier County Library Foundation, chaired by John B. Waters, to raise $100,000 to build an independent library building that would address space needs, expanded use, and disastrous flooding, which necessitated the moving of the books.   Mr. and Mrs. John E. Temple donated land for the new library, which was located at 321 Court Avenue in Sevierville.  The first library patrons were Mr. and Mrs. A.J. King, who made the lead $1000 gift for the library campaign.  The library campaign raised a total of $37,000 from private funds, received $83,000 through the Library Services and Construction Act, and was awarded a $26,500 grant from the Appalachian Commission.  Additional contributions included $7500 from the City of Sevierville and $25,000 from Judge Ray L. Reagan and the Sevier County Court. The Tennessee Valley Authority did the earth fill on the site (SCPLS Board, 1966-1969).

The architectural plan for the new library building was drawn by Hubert Bebb of James, Hugh, Ogle, and Associates.  Carlton Rochelle was the library consultant for the project.  Egli & Spradlen, building contractors, built the beautiful glass and brick structure at a total cost of $166,000. Ground was broken on September 1, 1967, for the 5,552 square foot building.  The Sevier County Public Library opened on November 24, 1968, with a collection that included books, records, art prints, periodicals, and newspapers.  Mrs. Eleanor Penny was hired to serve as the librarian (SCPLS Board, 1966-1969).  In 1975 the library board saw the need to staff the library with a professional librarian.  On November 1, 1975, the board hired Susan Williams Knowles, a Peabody School of Library Science graduate.  She served as librarian until August of 1978. Her successor, Faith Holdredge, served as librarian from August 1978 until February 1981.  Carolyn Gross took over as librarian from 1981 to June 1983.  Reese Ripatti, a library assistant who worked in the system for 14 years, assumed the position of librarian in November 1983 after serving as interim director for 8 months (SCPLS Board, 1975-1984).   

In April of 1994, the library board began discussing the need to relocate the main library, as all options for expanding it had been exhausted.  The long range planning committee recommended to the board that the existing facility be sold to the county and that the proceeds go towards a new building in the Sevierville Community Center area (SCPLS Board, 1994-1995).

In December of 1998, Reese Ripatti submitted her resignation as library director, effective January of 1999, suggesting Mildred King, a library assistant, serve as interim director.  She later extended her effective date of resignation to November 1, 1999, allowing the board time to conduct a search for a professional librarian.  Mildred King served as interim director from August 1, 1999, until February 2000, when Hugh Thomas was hired (SCPLS Board, 1998-2000).  At the time of Mrs. Ripatti’s resignation, the Sevier County Public Library System, including branches, was 8,544 square feet in size, had 9.5 full-time staff and was completely automated.  The 1998-99 annual statistics showed that the system was open 4,888 hours, served 134,459 visitors, circulated 148,064 items and held a total of 57,773 volumes (Nolichucky Regional Library, 1998-99).

Spring 2000 the library board leased 2,452 square feet in the Benson Building to house the genealogy collection and administration, expanding Sevierville’s main library space to 8,004 square feet.  In April 2000 the library board voted to pay one-third of the cost for a feasibility study to determine public support for a new library, with the county and the City of Sevierville providing the other two-thirds (SCPLS Board, 2000).   The board determined, based on the state standards for public libraries, that a 40,000 square foot main library was needed at a cost of approximately $8.5 million.  The feasibility study, prepared and presented by First Counsel, Inc. in January 2001, recommended that the board undertake a campaign to raise $2,000,000 and set a goal to build a 30,000 square foot facility.

In April 2001, Hugh Thomas resigned as system director.  Mildred King again served as interim director of the library system until Kaurri C. Williams (K.C.) was hired in March 2003.  On July 1, 2003, the Sevier County Public Library System became an official department of Sevier County (SCPLS Board, 2001-2003).  The 2003-04 Data Collection Report figures showed that the Sevier County Public Library System was 15,264 square feet in size, had 15.9 full-time staff, 14 public access computers and 12 staff computers with Internet access.  The annual statistics indicated that the system provided 10,556 service hours, saw 138,360 visitors, circulated 127,360 items, and held 134,071 total volumes (Nolichucky Regional Library, 2003-04).

On June 3, 2003, the library board voted to create a foundation for the library system and allotted $5000 to hire an attorney to handle the paperwork (SCPLS Board, 2003).  Janet King, SCPLS Board Chair, and K.C. Williams, System Director, spent six months recruiting members for the newly formed foundation, which held its first official meeting on February 5, 2004, and Al Blanton became its first President (SCPLS Foundation, 2004).  In the spring of 2004, representatives from Sevier County, the City of Sevierville, the Sevier County School District, the Fort Sanders Sevier County Hospital, the GSMN Park Service, the Library Board and the SCPLS Foundation held meetings to look at upcoming capital projects and need projections for the county and to discuss a land swap that would give the new main library land in the City of Sevierville complex adjacent to several Sevier County schools (SCPLS Board, 2004).  In April of 2005, the three acre tract of land at the southeast corner of Gary Wade Boulevard and Prince Street, formally known as the A.J. King Lumber Company, became the official site of the proposed new main library.  Planning began with project architect, Kelly Headden of BarberMcMurry, Inc. Architects.  The 45,000 square foot proposed library would be designed for expansion up to 102,000 square feet (SCPLS Foundation, 2005).

In February of 2006, Nancy Young, from The Brown Group, Inc., reported the results of a second feasibility study.  The recommendation to the library foundation was that a capital campaign be conducted to raise a total of $8 million with $3 million coming from the private sector and $5 million coming from the public sector (Sevier County and the City of Sevierville).  In 2006 Rex Henry Ogle was elected President of the Foundation, and Johnny Waters was appointed Honorary Chair of the Campaign Steering Committee with Jettie Clabo and Linda Ogle as co-chairs (SCPLS Foundation, 2006).

On January 8, 2007, Danny and Liz King along with their children, D.J. and Lindsey, announced they would follow in their grandfather’s footsteps and make the lead donation of $1 million for a new main library.  They also challenged the community to reach the $3 million goal with challenge pledge of an additional $500,000 (Williams, 2007).  The campaign raised a total of $11.9 million with $7 million from the public sector and $4.9 million from the private sector (SCPLS Foundation, 2009).

The groundbreaking for the new King Family Library was held on November 14, 2008.  The new three-story main library, located at 408 High Street in Sevierville, will be 41,000 square feet and feature a 4,000 square foot vaulted grand reading room, a formal conference room, a computer lab, a café, public meeting spaces and a catering kitchen, a children’s reading room and a teen center.  The third floor will feature the Sevier County History and Genealogy Center.  The anticipated opening date for this $11.5 million state-of-the art facility is May 2010 (SCPSL Foundation, 2007-2008).

    The new King Family Library opened May 14, 2010.  K.C. Williams served as director until May of 2011.  Interim directors were appointed, Robin Cogdill and Anjanae Brueland, who served until August 1st, 2013, at which time new library director Rhonda Clement Tippitt was hired as the library system director.

Seymour Branch

In November 1977 the library board voted to purchase a bookmobile for the Seymour Community at a cost of not more than $2000.  It opened on the lot of the Seymour Branch of the Bank of Sevierville on June 6, 1979.  The bookmobile was 168 square feet, was open 16 hours a week and staffed by volunteers.  On January 1, 1980, Barbara Pitner was hired as a library assistant to manage the Seymour Branch.  In October 1983 the Seymour Branch Library moved to the Bill Mellon Office Building.  This leased space provided 650 square feet at a cost of $235.00 per month, including utilities. The new space allowed the branch to expand the hours of operation to twenty-six per week (SCPLS Board, 1977-1983).

In July 1990 the library board voted to pay a rent increase for more space for the Seymour library.  One year later, the library moved to the opposite end of the Bill Mellon Office Building and increased its size from 650 square feet to 1250 square feet (SCPLS Board, 1990-1991).

On March 28, 1998, the Seymour Branch moved into 2,996 square feet of space located at 11560 Chapman Highway.  In October 1999 Virginia Borrelli was promoted to manager of the Seymour Branch Library (SCPLS Board, 1998-1999).

On March 21, 2003, a parcel of land in the Macon Crossing Shopping Center was purchased for $65,000 to build a new library (Nicholson, 2003).  On April 19, 2004, the 3,568 square foot facility opened its doors at an approximate cost of $350,000.  A formal grand opening was held on August 28, 2004.  The Friends of the Seymour Library raised $14,000 from private donations for the building with the balance funded by Sevier County (SCPLS Board, 2004).  Ms. Borrelli was promoted to manager of the Main Library in Sevierville in June 2005, and Kelly Hamilton was hired as her replacement.  Tony Krug was promoted to branch manager in August 2007 (SCPLS Board, 2005-2007). When visiting the Seymour branch library today you will enjoy a bustling library that features a robust selection of books and other materials along with a full range of programs for all ages and interests, led by branch manager David Phillips.

Kodak Branch

In 1987 the Northview Community Association established a library committee, the Northview Community Library Committee, under the direction of Janis Russell.  The association had approximately $2, 000 remaining from its Homecoming ’86 activities, which they designated as “seed money” to fund a library.  This committee determined that it would be in the best interests of their community not to be an independent library.  On September 1, 1987, the members approached the Sevier County Library Board, which quickly agreed to co-sponsor a Northview Branch of the Sevier County Library (SCPLS Board, 1987).

The library committee researched library needs for Northview community and possible locations.  The committee approached the Northview Optimist Club about locating the new library in the Northview Optimist Community Park on Dumplin Valley Road.  A verbal agreement was reached for a long-term lease of $1 a year for a portion of the property.  In 1990, the Optimist Club sold the park to the City of Sevierville, retaining 1.62 acres of the property at the top of a hill near the center of the park for the purpose of building the new library (SCPLS Board, 1989-1990).   

In 1994 the committee designated a separate organization to carry out the library project.  Dwight Shepherd worked with the Friends of Tennessee Libraries to obtain a charter for the new group, which became known as the Friends of Kodak Library (FOKL).  FOKL worked with many groups to come up with plans to build the new library, and fundraising efforts went into action (Shepherd, 2004).

In 1997 the City of Sevierville asked the Optimists if they would be willing to deed the property at the top of the hill to the city in exchange for a long-term lease for the property at the bottom of the hill fronting Dumplin Valley Road.  The City of Sevierville and the Optimists approached the FOKL committee with this proposal.  The Friends of the Kodak Library agreed to the changes and the lease was signed in early 1998 (Shepherd, 2004).

    In January 2001 the building committee recommended the purchase of a 3,692 square foot manufactured, modular coded building from Clayton Commercial Builders at a total cost of $106,000.  This proved to be most cost effective, as the FOKL would purchase the building with available funds and open the library by the end of the year.  The groundbreaking for the Kodak Branch Library was held on April 21, 2001.  The new library officially opened its doors on December 2, 2001.  Robin Cogdill was appointed branch manager.  In August 2008, Cogdill was promoted to Sevier County Public Library System Assistant Director and Kelly Hamilton replaced her as the Kodak Branch manager (SCPLS Board, 2001, 2008).

Today the library is a very active community gathering place, featuring a great variety of materials in its collection and programs for children, teens, and adults under the direction of branch manager John Alexander.

Pittman Center

In 1994 Laura Ownby, a volunteer with the Futurescapes project in Pittman Center, contacted the Nolichucky Regional Library director with a request that a library be opened at Pittman Center.  In January of 1995, the library board voted in support of a library in Pittman Center and to include it as a branch of the Sevier county Library (SCPLS Board, 1994).  In August 2003, the library system established a small satellite collection in the Pittman Center Town Hall in 2004 (SCPLS Board, 2003). Discussion between the Town of Pittman Center and the library board to expand this satellite is ongoing.  In August of 2012, the satellite library station was enlarged and within months was moved to a more spacious area in the lower level of the town hall.  In the summer of 2013, the satellite station was added to the summer reading outreach program to receive summer reading programs for children.  In the fall of 2013 an outreach storytime was established and a regular plan was established to rotate library books in this collection for local citizens in the Pittman Center area.

System Expansion

The 2008-09 Data Collection Report figures illustrate strong community use and the continual growth of the library system prior to the opening of the new main library.  Currently, the library system employs 21 full-time staff, provides public Internet access via 43 public access computers, 21 staff computers and a 17-computer laptop lab for public computer classes.  The 2008-09 annual statistics show that library system visitors exceeded 190,000, that 60,000 of these visitors made use of the public access computers, and that 165,652 items circulated.   In addition, the library system provided 272 CY/A programs with 6,691 attendees and 138 adult programs with 1,313 attendees (SCPLS Board, 2008-2009).

In 2009, the library board voted to approve a long-range plan that will expand the Seymour Branch, build a new building for the Kodak community and build a new branch for the New Center community over the next ten years (SCPLS Board, 2009).  The new 41,000 square foot King Family Library, which will open its doors in May of 2010, includes property sufficient to support expansion 102,000 square feet.  The Sevier County Public Library System continues in its mission to provide free access to life-long learning, discovery, and enrichmefor the citizens of and visitors to Sevier County.


Anonymous. (1958, April 10). History of Sevierville Library. The News Record.

Nicholson, C.T.  (2003, March 25-31). New Seymour Library getting closer: final paperwork signed.  Tri-County News, vol. 48, n.1.

Nolichucky Regional Library Reports. (1960 to 2008).

Planning Study Report. (2001). First Counsel, Inc., p. 59.

Sevier County Public Library System Board (SCPLS). (1973 to 2009). Library board minutes.

Sevier County Public Library System Foundation.  (2003 to 2009).

Shepherd, D. (2004). A brief history of the Kodak Library effort, p. 3.

Williams, K.C. (2007, January 23-29). Library foundation receives lead gift for new main library: gift to challenge community involvement also pledged. Tri County News, p. 4.

Young, N. (2006) Sevier County Public Library System capital campaign feasibility study final report.  The Brown Group, Inc., p. 37.