Confederate surgeon Robert Turner Baskette, and wife Helen Crichlow, built the stately Italianate style house in 1856. It remains one of the original downtown pre-Civil War homes, survived the ravages of the Civil War, and remained intact during the destructive downtown tornado of 1913. The house was purchased by The Woman's Club of Murfreesboro in 1916, from the estate of local hotelier James Monroe Haynes, becoming the fifth and current owner. (Left: Oldest picture known of the house).
Our Club, incorporated and chartered July 22, 1916, celebrated its Centennial Anniversary in 2016. True to its original charter, The Woman's Club continues to offer cultural, recreational, literary, and public interest programs to the community, and provide philanthropic and educational opportunities. The Club continues to preserve and maintain the historic collection of literary works that served Murfreesboro and Rutherford County as the first public lending library from 1887 to 1948.
The founding members of The Woman's Club of Murfreesboro sought to promote reading, literacy, cultural enlightenment, beautification of our city, and to provide volunteer services to a wide variety of social needs. Today, our members continue to remain active in volunteerism at the local, state and national levels within a number of organizations. Scholarship opportunities are funded from a variety of our fundraising efforts.
During the rebuilding process following the end of the Civil War, a small group of ladies met to encourage and promote a love of reading and literature within the community. This core group read with enthusiasm the literary works of Helen Hunt Jackson, an American activist whose novel “Ramona” focused on the plight of the migrant worker in southern California following the Mexican-American War. Based on their love of this novel, the Helen Hunt Jackson Reading Club was formed in 1887, with 12 original members. Each member committed to contribute one good book.
This small club set about to collect and solicit a location for their collection of literary works that were offered on loan to local residents. As the collection of books and interest in the “lending” library increased, the Murfreesboro Library Association was formed in 1889 by members of the original HHJ Reading Club, and the book collection’s first home was an empty counter in the Booker Smith Drug Store, according to research done by Mrs. J. B. Black, president of The Woman’s Club in the late 1940s. Books were loaned without charge, but families were encouraged to join the Association, with annual dues of 50 cents. When the book collection outgrew the drug store counter, it was moved to a room in the Mason Court Building on East Main Street.
The Library Association moved its collection now exceeding 1,000 books next to a space above Vickers’ Drug Store on the Square in 1915. The following year, the collection of books was moved yet again to the Masonic Building at the corner of East Main and the Public Square. Another tenant at this same location was the recently organized Woman’s Club. During this same time, discussions began among members of the Library Association, the Suffrage League, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy to secure a meeting location for these groups and more importantly a home for the now estimated 2,000 volumes of books, magazines and periodicals. Under the guidance of some of the original members of the Library Association and the HHJ Reading Club, a location was secured and the Library Association’s collection had its final home.
The entire collection of books and other materials owned by the Murfreesboro Library Association were moved to their permanent home, just inside the front door of the former J. M. Haynes property at 221 East College Street in late 1916, and today they remain in that same location, although the number of literary works has swelled to over 3,500. The Library Association operated as the original public lending library in Rutherford County until 1923 when The Woman’s Club Library employed a librarian and assumed the task until 1948 when Linebaugh Public Library opened.
Mrs. Sam Mitchell, former president of The Woman’s Club of Murfreesboro, said it best in her newspaper article written in 1929, “From a little acorn has grown a great oak.” What began with 12 ladies with vision and foresight and a love for literature and good books in 1887, has evolved into the current members working with fervor to maintain and preserve the historic nature of our historic house and the enduring legacy of one of Murfreesboro’s premier service organizations.
Contributed by Diane Summar, 2018
Historian for The Woman's Club of Murfreesboro
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