Community celebrates Murray Hill Branch library’s 50th anniversary

Nearly 100 gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the library in Murray Hill and its renaming to the Bill Brinton Murray Hill Branch.
Nearly 100 gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the library in Murray Hill and its renaming to the Bill Brinton Murray Hill Branch.

City leaders honor late Bill Brinton at library rededication

          Through a twist of financial circumstance, the Jacksonville Public Library’s Murray Hill Branch was both the last library to be built before and the first to be open after City-County Consolidation in 1968.

            Nearly 100 gathered Dec. 15 to celebrate the library’s 50th anniversary, learn the strange tale of its beginnings, and honor a man who followed in his father’s footsteps as a champion of libraries.

            After Branch Manager Shirdellah Groulx welcomed the gathering, Jacksonville Public Library Director Tim Rogers shared opening remarks before turning the podium over to Dr. Charles Moreland, director of community affairs for the City. Moreland introduced the video which told the story of the library and the people behind it.

            Created and narrated by Dan Kibler, former board member of Friends of the Murray Hill Library, the video noted that in 1959 bookmobile service had been instituted in Murray Hill, but residents wanted their own brick-and-mortar library. They initially proposed a former church on Kerle and Ingleside be repurposed as a branch.

          The Jacksonville Public Library’s board of trustees met in 1965 to discuss a new branch for the community of Murray Hill and asked Harry Brinton, director of the library system, to find a location for the new branch. Brinton, father of the late Bill Brinton, identified property on Edgewood and Kerle, owned by a barber, and the board chose the architectural firm Hardwick and Lee to design the new building.

          Ground was broken at 918 Edgewood Avenue South by Board Chairman Cecil C. Bailey and Mayor Hans Tanzler on Nov.16, 1967. After construction was well underway, it was discovered the $75,000 set aside for materials for the new branch had been suddenly eliminated by the City Council. The board of trustees would have to wait until after city-county consolidation to find new funds for books.

          The Murray Hill Branch library was completed in June 1968 – before consolidation – but did not officially open until Dec. 17, 1968 – after consolidation in October. At the dedication, the Murray Hill Baptist Church youth orchestra provided music and the Murray Hill Citizens Club provided refreshments. The building had over 7,000 square feet of enclosed space and shelf capacity for over 22,000 volumes. In the first nine months, the branch set a record of over 100,000 books circulated.

             Through the decades, the Murray Hill Branch library was close to the heart of Bill Brinton, who was 16 when the library first opened. He launched the Friends of the Murray Hill Library in 2010 to fight for restoration of library hours following a budget cut. Brinton, one of the nation’s preeminent first amendment attorneys, cut the ribbon reopening the library full-time in 2010, and later brought his grandsons, Luke and Adams Graham,through the doors for their first library cards. Brinton served on the Friends board from 2010 until his death in June 2017.

            To honor his good friend Bill Brinton, Councilmember At-Large John Crescimbeni initiated a bill in early November 2018 to have the library renamed the Bill Brinton Murray Hill Branch. Joined by 13 other councilmembers, and with the help of Sam Mousa, the City’s chief administrative officer, the bill was pushed through and signage was created less than a month later.

            Crescimbeni also surprised the gathering by reading a book, “Bill Brinton – Library Hero,” he wrote and created with the help of his executive assistant, Nikki Evans. Each of Brinton’s three grandchildren, the Graham brothers and their cousin Virginia Bicksler, received copies of the book.

Councilman John Crescimbeni reads his book, “Bill Brinton – Library Hero” to Brinton’s three grandchildren.
Councilman John Crescimbeni reads his book, “Bill Brinton – Library Hero” to Brinton’s three grandchildren.

            Only four out of the 22 libraries in Jacksonville are named after someone. Brinton’s legacy joins that of Charles D. Webb (Webb Wesconnett Regional Library), Olga L.Bradham and Etta L. Brooks (Bradham and Brooks Branch), and the Rev. Dallas James Graham (Dallas Graham Branch).

            Other speakers at the celebration included Jay Stuckey, president of Friends of the Murray Hill Library; District 14 Councilman Jim Love, and CouncilmemberAt-Large Tommy Hazouri, as well as Caroline Brinton, daughter of the late Bill Brinton, speaking on behalf of the Brinton family about the honor.

Virginia Bicksler and her mother, Leslie, with Luke and Adams Graham and their mother, Caroline Brinton
Virginia Bicksler and her mother, Leslie, with Luke and Adams Graham and their mother, Caroline Brinton

            “My father would be deeply humbled by this generous showing of gratitude for his endeavors. My grandparents and father quickly grew deep roots in the community they adopted in 1959 and those roots run deepest through the public library system,” she said.“At my grandfather’s retirement, my father said of his father, ‘He’s been a great inspiration to me and I hope that I am half as successful in my profession as he has been in his profession.’ My dad had a particular affection for this branch, which I must partially attribute to its proximity to the Dreamette.”

The wind threatened to spoil the reveal of the new name for the Murray Hill Branch Library.
The wind threatened to spoil the reveal of the new name for the Murray Hill Branch Library.

            Following the program, all in attendance gathered outside the front doors of the library to see the new name revealed, with a lot of help from the wind, as two staff members pulled a blue tarp off the new sign. Groulx, and many others, struggled to hold back tears as the Jacksonville Public Library Bill Brinton Murray Hill Branch was applauded.

By Kate A. Hallock

Resident Community News

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