Eugene Clark must have been a particularly skillful and compassionate
physician. Certainly, as events would show, he also believed in the
importance of public libraries in a democracy.
An 1883 graduate
of Tulane University’s medical school, after a residency at New
Orleans’ Charity Hospital he left his home town and moved to Texas
to begin a partnership with a doctor in Lockhart.
The older doctor soon hung up his stethoscope and handed all of
his practice over to the 21-year-old Dr. Clark.
For the next 13 years, the doctor from Louisiana tended to the people
of Caldwell County,
fixing or curing what he could, delivering their babies and standing
at the bedside of those whose lives were ending. Not surprisingly,
Dr. Clark earned immense respect in the community. In turn, the doctor
really liked the folks who lived in Lockhart
and made many good friends.
Deciding to specialize in the ear, nose and throat, in 1896 Dr.
Clark left Lockhart
to study in Europe. A year later, he came back to Texas
and began practicing in San
Antonio. While in San
Antonio, Dr. Clark became seriously ill and traveled to New
York for surgery. On his way, he stopped in Lockhart
to visit some of his friends for what turned out to be the last
In New York he learned his medical situation was terminal and he
returned to his native New Orleans to live out his final days.
his death bed, Dr. Clark dictated a will leaving $10,000 to Lockhart
for a public library and lyceum. In his bequest, he earmarked $6,000
to cover construction of the library and $1,000 for the purchase
of books to line its shelves. The remaining $3,000 was to go into
a trust for the library’s maintenance and future books.
Its design inspired by the Villa Rotunda in Vicenza, Italy, the
library opened in 1899 and has been serving the residents of Lockhart
ever since. In fact, it’s the longest continuously used library
in the state.
Until 1956, the library had a stage and auditorium style seating
for public lectures, and for years, as Dr. Clark had envisioned,
it served as the community’s cultural center. President William
Howard Taft spoke there along with numerous lesser-known politicians
and lecturers offering insight and opinion from religion to temperance.
Opera singer, actress and self-help speaker Dorothy Sarnoff once
performed there, at one point telling her audience, "If you are
bored with my performance tonight, you can just reach over and grab
a good book to read."
of the first books in its collection was “How to Win,” an inspirational
book for girls by Frances E. Willard. Published by Funk and Wagnalls
Co., the slim 125-page volume went on sale in 1894. Either someone
forgot to return the book to the Lockhart library or at some point
the library discarded it without marking it as such.
Purchased years ago at an estate sale, the book has a pre-Dewey
Decimal classification number of 1183 and bears the library’s stamp
in several places. It still contains an old-style pull-out card
for the borrower’s name and the book’s due date. The card is dated
Nov. 3 with no year given. The last person to check the book out
was listed as a Mrs. J. Fortune.
Still pasted inside the front cover of the book are the library’s
rules. Basically, a patron had one week to read a book and only
one book could be checked out at a time. Keeping the book for that
period of time cost five cents, plus a refundable $1 deposit. Back
then, that was enough money to cover the replacement cost of the
“At the close of the first week the loan may be renewed for another
week at the same cost,” the rules note. “If the book is not returned
at the end of the first week, and loan renewed a charge of 10 cents
will be made for the second week, and if then retained 20 cents
will be charged for the third week.”
If the book
was not returned by the end of the third week, the rules continued,
the procrastinating patron would be sent a post card reminder with
the cost of that card added to the amount due. If that didn’t work,
the rules went on, “a messenger will be sent for the book with an
additional charge of 25 cents.”
Failure to respond to that netted the library user version of the
death penalty: “Any borrower refusing to pay the charge will thereafter
be debarred the privilege of the Library.” In other words, no more
books from the library. On top of that, the offender lost his $1
On the upside, the 1899 rules allowed a book to be read for free
inside the library, a privilege that still stands.
by Mike Cox - Order Here