Dear Call Box: I heard there was a library for Springfield-area residents that was in an old house. I’d like to know more about it.
Dear S.M.: The Springfield Library was in a Victorian mansion cluttered with oak shelves lined with books. It was a library unlike others in Jacksonville, and it held a special appeal to those who walked through its massive oak-paneled door at 10th and Silver streets.
It opened sometime in the 1940s at 2010 Silver St. but has long been torn down. A parking lot is where it once presided near towering oak trees.
We asked members of two Facebook groups, “Northside memories over 60” and “If you grew up on the Northside of Jax, FL, you remember when …” if they recalled the library, and it evoked nostalgic memories from many former patrons.
Glenna Edwards Thompson said she and her sister used to ride the city bus to the library and then return home with their arms full of books. Two weeks later they performed the same ritual.
Nancy Zatarain remembers accompanying her mother, an avid reader, to the old house and going upstairs to look for mystery books. Others fondly remember the popular Nancy Drew and Dana Girls series that were housed on that floor, when you could find them on the stacks.
Kay Rumbley Grand recalls there was a third floor that may have been a large attic but doesn’t recall what it contained. Whatever it was, there was lots of it, said LaMarge Culbreth, who does vividly remember the stairs leading to that top floor.
Judy Whitter Frey said her mother took her and her younger brother there for story time and to check out children’s books in the mid- to late-1950s.
“I thought the house was so amazing,” she said.
Toni Shrewsbury said it was the library where she fell in love with books.
”I just remember climbing the stairs between floors and room after room crowded with filled bookshelves,” Shrewsbury said. “When I think of it today, I remember tight spaces, lots and lots of books and a wonderful, old-book musty smell.”
Nancy Smedley Sands said she got a certificate from the library for reading a certain number of books when she was in first grade or so.
Linda Hanks went there every two weeks with her mother and sister, Ann. When she was about 13, she couldn’t find anything she wanted to read in the children’s section, so she went downstairs where the adult books were and got a Kathleen Norris romance novel. It was definitely G-rated, she said, but one of the librarians disapprovingly told her mother about it. Her mother told the librarian that she didn’t censor what her daughter read.
To Tracy Connors, the Springfield Library was a “Temple of Knowledge” and Mrs. Porter, the head librarian, was its priestess. He never knew her first name. When he was 6, she issued him “the most important card I ever got in my life.” He could check out books under his own name and was accountable for returning them. It was empowering, he said.
Connors, a retired Navy captain, said he has been issued all kinds of cards since then — cards that took him into secret military places, the halls of Congress, onto bases and ships, that authorized him to drive and to vote, but none has come close to the power contained in that first library card from the Springfield Library.
Mrs. Porter’s “sceptre” was a No. 2 Eagle pencil, with a date stamp that held rubber type reset every day to the current date, he said. She waved that pencil while she recommended books and described places she had been to, which was seemingly everywhere, he said. It seemed like she knew everything, said Connors, who has a doctorate in human services managment from Capella University in Minneapolis.
As for the old house, he recalls oak shelves covering every wall and almost every square foot of floor space, oak chairs at the library’s one reading table at the back of the building and worn oak floors that creaked under the weight of all those books and shelves. Mrs. Porter’s throne was her elevated checkout desk.
The Springfield Library had replaced the earlier Northeast Springfield Library at 11th and Franklin streets. It was built as a Works Progress Administration project and opened in March 1941, Florida Times-Union articles report.
In turn, the Springfield Library was replaced by what is now known as the Brentwood Branch Library at 3725 N. Pearl St. It opened in 1961 as the Northside branch in the remodeled Brentwood Theatre and was renamed the Brentwood in 1991, according to internet accounts. The Art Moderne-style building recently closed two months for renovations and reopened about three months ago.
For more information on Connors’ memories of the library, visit bit.ly/2CYwaEf.
If you have a question about Jacksonville’s history, call (904) 359-4622 or mail to Call Box, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Please include contact information. Photos are also welcome.
Sandy Strickland: (904) 359-4128