Name: Norman Library & Square
Location: Norman, Arkansas
Hours: The library is open on a part time basis.
Displays: local books, pictures & newspapers.
Notes: Smallest freestanding public library in Arkansas, and 2nd smallest in U.S.A. If you know of a smaller, (free standing, public, occupied) let us know. It was once believed to be the smallest in the U.S.A., but one has been located which is believed to be smaller.
The town of Norman owes a great deal to Marie (Little) Pinkerton, who for many years lived and worked in the town, until her death on April 26, 1978. For it was she who was behind the building and maintaining of the the town's most unique feature, the Norman Public Library.
In the days when Black Springs Lumber Company operated a company store and commissary Marie worked there. The old company commissary was located across from the square, next to the town's City Hall. The commissary was torn down to make room for Bill Williams to build a new service station. Marie Pinkerton looked out over the square each day and an idea began to take shape in her head. It was the time of the Great Depression and not only did the town square need beautifying, the ladies of the town need hope, vision, and something to keep their minds off the dire situation they found themselves in on a daily basis.
Mrs. Pinkerton, whose motto was “Forward,” conceived the idea of a Garden Club in 1936, and on April 25, 1937, her dream became a reality. The club had fifteen charter members, eventually growing to sixty members.
In 1939, through Mrs. Pinkerton’s efforts, the club obtained Works Project Administration (WPA) funds to construct a native stone wall around the town square to replace the unsightly barbed wire fence. The club furnished the rocks and cement and paid all the expenses.
Later the ladies gathered plants and trees to represent all sections of the country and set the em out throughout the square. At one time they planted a flower or tree for each state. (Not necessarily the state’s appointed flower or tree, but one to represent it.)
In pre-World War II days of the 1930s the government created the WPA (May 6, 1935) to provide work and an income for needy families during the Great Depression. There are several such projects in the Montgomery county area, one is the square, and others are the Crystal Springs and Collier Springs recreation areas.
The city waterworks had a building which sat in the middle of the town square and housed a pump used to pump water from the Caddo River to the tower on the hill east of town.
Mrs. Pinkerton approached the town council about making part of the building available for a library. Permission was granted and one-hundred-seventy square feet was turned into a public library.
Madge Chapin and Edith Wehunt were early librarians, serving through 1940.
The library was furnished in Mission oak at a cost of two hundred dollars. Later the Garden Club raised funds to help accumulate five hundred books. The grounds were landscaped and flower beds were kept in constant bloom during the spring and summer months.
Of particular significance to the uniqueness of the town square is the shiny cable which tops the concrete and rock wall.
In the early 1900s there was a town called Slatington, located between Black Springs and Big Fork. This town was another “company” venture. Slate was discovered in the mountains and businessmen from the north quickly came to the area to invest in mining it.
The town of Slatington sprang up as a result of this venture and the investors built company stores, a commissary, and housing for the many men and their families who would live and work there.
However, the town didn’t exist very long as it was discovered that the slate (red, green and black) was not as suitable for roofing material as first thought. The climate was too humid and the slate too heavy for this purpose. In addition, the slate was found to split into layers, making it hard to cut. Although it did find some use as blackboards for schools, and for telephone switchboards.
With railroading new to the area and not accessible to the Slatington mill, it was much to cumbersome to move and ship the slate, not to mention the high cost. So Slatington closed and the town became a ghost town in only ten years.
It also came to light that there had been some mishandling of company funds, which lead to the quick demise of the company. Peter McWilliam was employed for several years, to clear out the holdings left at Slatington. Company officials remained or went back to Missouri, where they had come from.
During the time the mine was in operation the miners had to move the slate from the top of the mountain, where the principal mine was located, to the base of the mountain where it could be loaded for shipment to Mena, the nearest railroad. To do this they used mining carts, which looked like large, old-fashioned wheelbarrows, only closed in on all sides. The carts had wheels on all four corners to allow for balance and easy movement.
The problem was getting the cars up the mountain fast enough and down the mountain slow enough. To do this they had a large cable which operated with a pulley. As the full car came down, it pulled the empty car up.
The story is told that the Slatington mine had ordered a new cable (they needed a longer, heavier cable than the one they were using), but by the time it arrived from New York the plant had closed.
The cable, which had come by rail to Womble, had no home at Slatington, and not knowing what to do with the heavy, cumbersome thing, and having no money or instructions for returning it to the shipper, it was dumped in the Caddo river.
For years it lay there succumbing to the ravages of nature. Until a new low-water bridge was being constructed across the Caddo River, just west of the town square. The contractors pulled the cable to the edge of the river and used it as an abutment to divert the water while they poured concrete for the bridge.
Mrs. Pinkerton thought of the cable and went to county judge Blake Hughes, who was from Womble and asked him to give her the cable for the wall. [Marie said it was Hughes, but he served as judge from 1931-34, while J.N. Shaw served 1939-40, and Shaw also had lived in Norman, and I believe it was he who gave the cable to her.] The wall which had not been completed, as there was no concrete cap on the rocks, was completed and pillars constructed to pull the cable through. [This was 1939]
The workers found the cable in good shape so they used mules to drag it out of the river, where they cleaned and painted it before placing it around the square.
At this same time steps were placed on all four sides of the square, making it more accessible to those who wanted to bask in its beauty or sit under the numerous shade trees on a hot summer day.
Jeff Carpenter, a local logger, donated his trucks and labor to bring the rock down from the mountains to build the wall. Overseers for the project included G.S. Mitchell and Horace Eagleston.
Emory “Pug” Black was in charge of building the diamond shaped rock flower beds in the square.
At one time the square was also home to a squirrel cage and a fish pond.
In the 1990s a local group undertook the restoration of the library and reopened it to the public on a limited basis.
In the summer of 2006 Karen Barlow, Small Grants Coordinator for West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District, wrote a grant for the city, to restore the wall and replace the library roof with a replica of the original Spanish tile roof.
The grant was $10,000 from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. It was matched with $5,000 donated by NHPP, Inc. The grant was administered by Shirley (Shewmake) Manning. At the same time the city gave an easement to AHPP to insure that the square and library will be protected from future destruction or changes which would alter the original facade. All this was voted on and approved by the Norman City Council.
The Norman Square and Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Site #93000092
As of this date only one smaller, free-standing public library has been located in the United States. Therefore, this is claimed to be the second smallest free-standing public library in the U.S. Much research has been undertaken and although two other smaller structures have been located, both have been removed and are no longer used as a library. Another smaller library has been located, however, it is housed inside a larger building and therefore does not qualify.
Guinness Book of Records still list the smallest library as the one in Alabama which has since been removed. Follow up: we have been sent information on a smaller library in California, but as of yet there are none smaller in Arkansas.