Libraries Round the World: The Mary Willis Library

The Mary Willis Library in the town of Washington, Georgia, named after President George You-Know-Who, is a beauty. This rural part of Georgia, between Atlanta and Augusta, is called the Classic South by Georgia’s tourist office. 

Today & back in time below

The historic town is in Wilkes County which is one of Georgia’s first eight counties established by European American settlers in 1777.  The land was ceded in 1773 from the Creek and Cherokee to the British, but the Revolutionary War curtailed the payments due to them. Some important and successful Revolutionary War battles were fought against the British in this county. 

This 1888 library, the first public library in Georgia, was built in memory of Mary Willis, the daughter of Dr. Willis. I’m not sure why she died so young, but he must have loved her very much. Her father gifted this ornate library to his hometown and made it public for all the residents. 

Tiffany stained glass windows adorn the Queen Anne style building with many rare books including a special genealogy and local history room. Original floors and bookcases are still in use today with extras custom-made to match the design. The building was expanded in 1991, but construction has been carefully done to avoid disrupting the historic nature of the building.

I visited the library last month during a once-in-a-lifetime genealogy trip to this area to find out more about my ancestors who lived here during the Revolutionary War. One owned land in the area, and his son was a Revolutionary War captain. The father participated on a Grand Jury related to some crimes committed by loyalists during the war. This ultimately resulted in a terribly end for two of the men, but luckily not for my ancestors or I might not be here!  

Karen Stensgaard is the author of two novels, AQUAVIT and BLUENESS, in the Aquamarine Sea series. They have nothing to do with Washington or Georgia, but it’s a series and not yet completed, so maybe!

The Mary Willis Library in the classic southern town of Washington, Georgia
A Birdhouse-style library with the Queen Anne building in the background

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