Wilson County was legally created on February 13, 1860 by proclamation of the Texas State Legislature from the existing counties of Bexar, Gonzales, Karnes, Atascosa and Guadalupe. The county was named for James Charles Wilson, a Texas patriot and survivor of the ill-fated Mier Expedition in 1842. The city of Floresville was officially made the county seat in 1885.
The Wilson County Free Library was established on September 16, 1940, when the County Commissioners voted unanimously to hire Mrs. Lillian Inez Jackson as the first county librarian for a salary $75 a month. Mrs. Jackson held this position for the better part of 32 years. The library collection was housed in the basement of the current Wilson County Courthouse until other arrangements could be made. It has been noted that the Floresville Musical Club gifted the library with its first circulating collection of 350 books (Forister). The library was funded from the county’s general fund, where $0.03 of every $100 collected was set aside for daily operations and collection development of the library (Commissioners’ Court Minutes of Wilson County, Texas, 1940).
The same year that the library was established by the Commissioners’ Court, arrangements for the first advisory board were made. Appointments for the following individuals were entered in record as charter members: Mr. R. L. Eschenburg of Floresville; Mrs. R. A. Wiseman, Jr. of Floresville; Mrs. J. H. Bain, Jr. of Stockdale; Mrs. Aug. Laas of Poth; Mrs. Herron Wiseman of LaVernia (Commissioners’ Court Minutes of Wilson County, Texas, Volume K). As an historical note, John B. Connally, former Governor of Texas, was the county clerk at the time the library was established.
According to the first annual report submitted to the Texas State Library in 1941, Mrs. Jackson reported that Wilson County was supporting 10,000 residents and that the library’s collection contained 2,236 volumes. At this time the library did not register borrowers, but Mrs. Jackson estimated that about two-thirds of 10,000 library users were children. Throughout World War II the library was an active member of our county community; Mrs. Jackson drove a bookmobile for 15 years to 57 schools. The first bookmobile, purchased in 1940 was a paneled truck with a capacity of 600 books. Her second bookmobile was twice as large, with approximately 1200 books. It provided a little bit of room for patrons to step inside to browse the collection. It was not long before the library outgrew the provided space in the courthouse basement. In 1945, the collection grew to a holdings level of 4,530 volumes. Mrs. Jackson’s annual report for fiscal year 1944-1945 also indicated that plans for a new library building were underway.
On October 4, 1946, the Martha Eschenburg Public Library was publically dedicated. The new location was 1144 “C” Street, which is on the corner of “C” and Fourth Streets. Today this building houses the county adult probation offices. Funds for this first building were raised by selling bricks for $1.00 to just about every citizen of Wilson County. Library Advisory Board Chairman, prominent business man, civic leader and long time resident of Floresville, Mr. R.L. Eschenburg matched the funds with a sizable donation as a memorial for his beloved wife, Martha. The construction cost of this new brick building was set at $7000.00. At this time, the library was open for 309 service days a year and open to the public 54 hours a week. By year’s end, Mrs. Jackson was reporting that the library collection was steadily climbing to 5,889 volumes while the population of the county was estimated to be approximately 17,000 people.
Life for the library would continue in a normal growth pattern until the limits of the collection well exceeded the existing facility space. On June 12, 1967, the County Commissioners approved the idea that a second new building would need to be constructed. Library records indicate that on December 14, 1967, Rev. Lee Birdsong, then chairman of the Library Advisory Board, entered into contract with architects Cummins, Reed & Clements, ALA, Architects of Texas City, Texas and Arthur E. Martin Construction Company of San Antonio for the construction of the current library.
Our present 5,000 square foot building was built and dedicated to Sam Fore, Jr. long time owner/editor of the Floresville Chronicle Journal. Mr. Fore worked relentlessly to build his newspaper business and better his community. The present building located on the courthouse square was built for an approved construction cost of $64,533.00. It is documented that the county provided the land, while the state offered a matching program for new libraries being built. By 1968, the collection soared to over 10,000 volumes. In the summer of 1969, Mrs. Jackson arranged for summer branches to be open for children throughout the county. Summer branches were established in Stockdale, LaVernia, and Poth for several years.
In writing this short biography of the library, it has been a joy to follow the progression of the library through the Commissioners’ Court Meeting Minutes and library’s annual reports submitted to the Texas State Library. It was very interesting to see the growth of the library and the importance our library has had upon this growing community. Now in 2009, the Sam Fore Jr., Wilson County Public Library supports a service population that is fast approaching 40,000 residents with a collection of almost 32,000 volumes. Today, just like in the past, the Wilson County Public Library is the primary public library for the citizenry of Wilson County, and is an integral part of this county’s community. So, we will strive to continue operating by the motto that was established decades ago “so that all may read.”
Nicki Stohr, MLS, Library Director
Wilson County Centennial 1860-1960. Executive Committee Wilson County Centennial Association, Inc.
Wilson County Sesquicentennial 1860-2010. Eds. Maurine Liles and Shirley Grammer. 2009.
Forister, M. C. Collected Newspaper Clippings from 1963-1988.
Annual Reports 1941-1985.