History of Woodruff
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Compiled by the staff of the Kennedy Room of Local and South Carolina History, 2004
Property of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries; duplication is not permitted without consent.
• Established: Late 1700s
• Location: In southwestern corner of county
• Fun fact: Early names were The Hill and The Crossroads
In the late 1700s, Joseph Woodruff moved his family from the Yadkin River Valley of North Carolina into a lonely spot in southwestern Spartanburg County. By the 1790 census, the “Woodrough” family was counted in the area, along with a handful of other hardy settlers.
The area stayed sparsely populated well into the 1800s. Those who lived there called it “The Hill,” due to its location on high ground. A congregation formed by 1787 and a church was built, which later became Bethel Baptist. By 1820, Woodruff Tavern was located at a well-traveled crossroads. Some people took to calling the fledgling community “The Crossroads” as a result.
The town was incorporated on March 14, 1874. The fledgling town struggled during the Reconstruction years, and it did not create its first government until 1876. In addition to naming its first officials, the community christened itself Woodruff. The name was in honor of Joseph Woodruff’s son, Thomas, a schoolteacher and community leader.
Elder citizens of Woodruff point to the coming of the Charleston and Western Carolina Railway in 1885 as the greatest event in Woodruff’s history. An elderly Dr. C.P. Woodruff placed a wreath of roses around the first train’s smokestack and kissed the engine before a rapt crowd.
The railway opened access from Woodruff to Spartanburg on a run known as “the Short Dog.” By 1915, Woodruff was a bustling little town of 3,000, boasting electric power and a telephone system; two banks, two cotton mills and a cotton oil mill; numerous other businesses; a newspaper with a readership of 5,000 and a new public library.
By the 1980s, though, Woodruff’s glory days seemed over. The embattled textile industry and the popularity of malls and shopping centers damaged the town’s population and economy, and town officials sought ways to revive the community.
As 2000 dawned, Woodruff drew energy from a $1.1 million revitalization project aimed at sprucing up the town’s business district. The town, like many small Southern communities abandoned by textiles, still searches for the key to rebirth.
In 1968, I had three small children and was not employed. It was a standing joke among my friends that I carried a book with me everywhere I went. I freely admit that I was and am an avid reader. As word got around town that Mrs. Archie Willis was retiring from Timrod Library, it was not surprising that I received several calls from friends suggesting that I might want to apply for her job. At that time the library was open from 10 to 12 in the mornings and 2 to 5 in the afternoons on Tuesday through Saturday. Five hours a day, five days a week seemed to be just about right for me and still gave me time to spend with my children. Also, I found it tempting to be surrounded by all those books. I went to the Spartanburg Library and was hired by the Library Administrator, Miss Francis Reid. And so began a wonderful twenty five years in a job that I loved and enjoyed very much.
When I began working in April of 1968, I doubt that the library had changed much in the years between that time and 1910. The building had high ceilings with three teardrop-shaped chandeliers that gave very little light. The walls were dark, having suffered from smoke due to the old oil stove that sat in the middle of the room. The shelves were packed tightly with books, some very old with brittle, yellowed pages and faded covers that still carried a name plate as belonging to the old Woodruff Library Association. The windows, two in front and back and one on each end of the building, were covered by old wooden blinds. The building was not underpinned and had no insulation, which made it very cold during the winter months. My husband Joe often went by at 6 AM on cold mornings and lit the heater in hopes that the building would be warm by the time I opened for business at 10 AM. If it were extremely cold, there would still be ice in the toilet when I got there. I discovered that books absorb cold and often times my fingers ached from putting up or rearranging books on the shelves. The building was serviceable but not very appealing.
One of the first things I did that first summer was ask the Western Auto, owned by James Gilbert, if they would donate paint (a robins egg blue) to cover the smoke stained walls of the Timrod. Mills Mill donated the services of a painter and the Woodruff Jaycettes bought bright yellow curtains to replace the ancient blinds. There was not much that could be done about the sagging floor and leaning shelves.
Up until this time the library had basically been an adult service. There were about 100 childrens picture books and 200 books for young readers. With school winding down for the summer, I invited the teachers to bring their students for a library visit. That first year I had perhaps six first and second grade classes visit the library. It was no easy task to fit 20 to 40 children into this tiny building, but they came and somehow fitted in. To show how important children are to the success of a library, the circulation during March of 1968 was 101 books checked out. At the end of April, the circulation was 875 books and by the end of May, it had jumped to more than 1,100.
Miss Reid had suggested that I start a Story Hour for the children during the summer and it became a successful program with 15 to 20 attending each Saturday morning. In good weather the children sat in a circle under the Chinaberry tree in the back yard and I read stories to them. The Woodruff Jaycettes brought refreshments after the program and the children then chose books to take home with them.
Those last years in the old building were quiet compared to the way things are today. There was no card file and patrons simply browsed through the shelves to find books. There was no telephone and if a book was needed from another location, a request was made, sent to Spartanburg by the bookmobile that stopped by once every two weeks, and returned to the Timrod on their next visit, if it was available - a full month from the time of the request to delivery! Fines per day for overdue books were 2 cents for children and 3 cents for adults. To apply for a library card, one followed the same procedure as requesting a book. The applications were sent to Spartanburg by the bookmobile and the bookmobile returned the library cards four weeks later.
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the old Timrod. It was a tiny building compared to the new Woodruff Branch. There were none of the modern conveniences of today, not even a phone. I can still remember hugging the old oil stove on cold mornings and enjoying the breeze from a rotating fan in the summer. Patrons were few and far between in those days, which was probably just as well since the building was not large enough to hold many people.
My memories of Timrod library patrons are many. I remember a small boy coming to the door and asking if he could come in or did I live there. I remember Mrs. Banner Arnold, who had scared me to death as my seventh grade teacher, coming by and saying she was proud of me and my work with the Timrod. I can still smile at my efforts to mop the old kitchen tile floor covering that was so worn in places that all I did was smear the mud undersurface over the entire area. I remember the dark corner on the right side of the building where the mysteries were kept, and the one shelf that displayed new books. I felt lucky when it was full, since it would hold 20 books.
In thinking back, I am most proud of having a part in introducing our children to the public library and the joy of reading. Without these young people the Timrod would not have grown to the point where Woodruff needed and deserved a larger building. During the last few years that I served as Library Supervisor, I was always pleased to recognize some of these earlier children now all grown up and bringing their own children to the library, thus helping another generation experience the pleasure of books.
I could never thank the people of Woodruff enough for the pleasure I received during the years I worked in the library. Woodruffs library patrons are special people and it was always a pleasure to serve them.
Dixie Page served as Library Supervisor from 1968 to 1993.