Last month, when the state House of Representatives unanimously passed House Resolution 216 to honor the Robeson County town of Proctorville on its one hundredth anniversary, one of the "Whereases" noted that the town had once held the distinction of being the smallest town in the United States with its own public library. That public library was, and continues to be, pretty small itself.
The W.R. Surles Memorial Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. W.R. Surles had been a teacher, principal, and later Robeson County superintendent of public instruction. Records from the N.C. State Historica Preservation Office explain the connection between Surles and the library building.
In the 1930s, Mr. Surles owned and operated a grocery and drygoods store. Admiring his grandfather’s business, his fifteen-year-old grandson Harry asked for a store of his own, and in 1935 Mr. Sureles hired Mr. Remus Davis of Proctorville to build Harry a small frame, store building. Harry sold crackers, candy and nick-nacks to local children. He soon became tired of the confinement of running the store and not having time to play with his friends, so the little store closed. Mr. Surles moved the supplies to his drygoods store and gave the store to the town of Proctorville for a library. Books were donated by Mr. Surles and the women of the community. Mrs. Evelyn Clyburn became the first librarian, and the one-room library was open two afternoons each week.
In 1939, the R. C. Lawrence Book Club in Proctorville was organized with twelve charter members. ... The Book Club’s primary mission was to promote cultural awareness and to encourage residents both young and old to read. As outlined in the club’s by-laws, they also maintained and provided financial support to the small library building.
A photo of the tiny library by Mrs. Marie McRae Ecklar of Robeson County includes the following description:
On account of the small size of the structure, only one person (or two if small children) could use the library at a time. Children would wait in line for their turn in the library.
In 1944, Surles donated land to build a larger, more modern library. Construction began in December 1950 and was completed the following May. The library was dedicated September 30, 1951, with many dignitaries, including Governor W. Kerr Scott in attendance.
In 1979, N&O writer Dennis Rogers visited Proctorville and its library.
Proctorville’s W.R. Surles Memorial Library is indeed a small one. The name covers the entire front of the building.
It is 20 feet wide, 30 feet long, and houses something like 2,500 books for this town of 232 people.
But look at it this way: That’s about 10 books for each resident, not a bad ratio....
The R.C. Lawrence Book Club, with 24 members (more than a tenth of the population), keeps the library going .... Members donate a book every time a resident dies, but they have to meet elsewhere since the library won’t hold them.
Jammed with four walls, four windows, a door, a storage room, two tables and a desk, perhaps a bridge foursome can fit inside. But that’s all right. If residents need a book at a time other than when the library is open (officially just one afternoon a week), part-time librarian Mrs. Hubert Rhodes is perfectly happy to run down and open up. -- The N&O 2/6/1979
Proctorville’s population, according to the 2010 census, has dwindled to 117, but the W.R. Surles Memorial Library is still in service and is open on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.