First Civic Organization in Carthage
The Carthage Book Club was organized in 1907. The Circulating Book Club, as it was called when it was founded, had a two-fold purpose: to promote literary and social advancement. However, because of needs soon perceived, civic and humanitarian issues rapidly assumed equal importance with books. The Carthage Book Club became the first Chamber of Commerce, Booster Club and Board of Development. The book club was the first civic organization in Carthage, long before the Lions (ca. 1936) or the Rotarians (ca. 1944), joined in their efforts to make their hometown a better place for all to enjoy. One of the charter members was Miss Margie Neal, who was the first woman senator in Texas. She served for eight years before she returned home to care for her ill parents. With her interests in government and civic improvements, she was interested in establishing the book club.
The twenty-six women of the Carthage Book Club established their position in the community in 1914 with their first major project, the city’s first concrete sidewalk. That project still stretches from the southeast corner of the square to the Santa Fe Railway Depot. The sidewalk cost the Carthage Book Club $900. It connected downtown, the center of activity for Panola County and Carthage, with its most important link with the outside world. The Santa Fe Railway brought mail, supplies and passengers to town.
The club’s next major project addressed another vital need in the community – the establishment of a place for women and children to rest as the men tended to business in town. During the years between 1917 and 1922, when the town’s population was approximately 1366, the club members raised enough money to purchase a frame building on West Sabine Street one block from the town square. This frame building served as a clubhouse and a ladies’ public restroom, where mothers could nurse their babies in private. At that time, families from all over Panola County came to Carthage to trade. The lounge was a haven for rural women who came by wagon with husbands and children to spend the day in Carthage shopping and transacting business. A cradle where babies could nap was included in the lounge’s furnishings.
By 1925 the club had raised enough money to replace the frame house with a two-story brick structure in the same location. The lower floor was rented for commercial use while the upper floor was used as a club room, library, and restrooms open to the public. This was considered a luxurious building because it had gas, water, and lighting installed. The clubroom was used for piano recitals, high school junior-senior banquets and other community functions. The twenty-fifth anniversary of the club was observed in this building in 1932 with Governor Dan Moody as guest speaker.
In the early years of the club, books were not as easily available to people as they are now. It was the hope of the book club to eventually collect enough books for a library. It was the responsibility of each member to donate one book a year, and it was circulated among the membership until all of the books were read. The books were kept in the clubhouse. Eventually 500 books were collected, and the clubroom on the second floor of the club building was made into a public library. Members donated time and books for public benefit.
When the town acquired a high school, the books were donated to its library. As interest was aroused for the Texas Centennial, the club decided to research and publish a history of Panola County. In 1936, the Centennial year, the soft-bound volume became a reality.
During World War I and World War II, members maintained a Red Cross workroom where bandages were rolled and knitting lessons were given to all who would knit socks and sweaters for American soldiers.
After World War II, the club sold their building. It now houses The Violet Shop an independently owned flower shop. In 1949, the club changed its name from Circulating Book Club to Carthage Book Club. The club has been far from just a social organization. In fact the club seems to have had a hand in almost every progressive movement in the county.
The club’s first beautification project was a rose garden in the median of Daniels Boulevard, followed by beautification of Baker Park on the elementary school grounds, Anderson Park on the square, and many “Keep Carthage Clean” projects.
During the 1960’s the club launched a beautification project for the town square, renamed Anderson Park. After the old Panola County courthouse on the square was demolished, the club transformed the park into one of the county’s beauty spots. In 1969, the club erected the picturesque gazebo that is the park’s focal point today. A plaque on the gazebo reads, “Built for the enjoyment of Carthage and Panola County by the Carthage Book Club.”
On October 3, 1988, the club participated in the erection of a Texas State Historical Marker honoring Miss Margie Neal, a charter member of the book club and state senator.
When Panola County needed a hospital, it was the Carthage Book Club that undertook the task of calling the registered voters in the county to ask for their support on the bonds. They repeated the effort, going from door to door and telephoning, when the city needed to build the Lake Murvaul water reservoir.
Members of the Carthage Book Club have worked hard to raise the money to finance their projects. In 1996 the club had the first of their Christmas Home Tours, in which local homeowners decorate their houses for Christmas and allow the club to charge the public for admission. This project has been so successful that it has become an annual affair much anticipated by the residents of the county.
A donation is made every year to some worthwhile community project. Some of the recent projects of the club include:
2007: The centennial year of the club was marked by a $5000 donation to the new Margie Neal Park. Through the encouragement of the club and other private donors, the City of Carthage built the park on the northwest corner of the downtown square where an unsightly building had been demolished.
2008: The club designed and had printed a tour map of historical locations in Carthage. They also reprinted the original 1936 book detailing the History of Panola County, and presented copies to all area libraries, museums and genealogical societies.
2009: A $2000 donation to the Panola County Historical and Genealogical Association for the renovation of windows in the historic 1891 Panola County Jail.
In addition to business meetings and programs, gatherings are social occasions, which serve as an opportunity for members to visit and exchange books. As in 1907, the club is limited to 26 active members, and each member buys a book, which is then circulated to the other members throughout the year.