What was once the first library in Aiken County still sits on Highway 4 east of Kitchings Mill, but efforts are under way to relocate the structure so that it can be preserved as a tribute to the eastern part of the county.
The building, which most recently served as a private residence, was built by Della and James Kitching around the turn of the 20th century.
Della, the matriarch of the now-defunct Kitchings Mill community, believed in promoting the literacy of its residents.
Della stocked the library, set up a foundation to maintain it, and dedicated it to the memory of her mother, Harriet Kitching.
Debbie Bass, the great-great-niece of Della, believes area residents helped fill the library by donating books.
In fact, the inscription on the inside cover of one book, which Bass has in her possession, reads, “To the Kitching's Mill Library: from James E. Courtney 9/18/09.”
Other inscriptions read that the fine for keeping a book out past two months is one cent per day.
Trustees of the library's foundation were, in addition to Della, Dr. W.A. Whitlock, P.K. Livingston, W.H. Brodie, Van E. Clark, Mrs. Sarah E. Courtney and Mrs. Beulah Livingston.
Della believed that a library was “instrumental in knowing the value of reading,” said Bass, who still lives in the Kitchings Mill area.
Della was a successful farmer and was a devoted patron of her church, Tabernacle Baptist. She donated the land for and built the church's first parsonage, located on what is now known as Aiken State Park Road.
She was also known for her parties; it is said she even liked to dance in the library on the stage that was once there. Della was even reportedly expelled from her church for dancing, saying, “I had God in my heart, and the devil got into my feet,” according to Bass.
“She was quite a lady, well-loved by her family,” Bass said.
After about 25 years, the foundation was no longer able to sustain the library so the property reverted to Della, according to Jerry Waters, who owned the land until very recently.
It was about that same time when the present Aiken County Public Library was established, resulting from the unification of the Dibble Memorial Library and the Aiken County Library.
A painting of the Kitching's Mill Library hangs in the Aiken County Public Library on Chesterfield Street.
The Kitchings Mill Library building was occupied by Della's descendants until 2012 when Waters received a call from the family of then-resident Virginia Surles.
Surles was moving into an assisted living home and wanted Waters to assist in the preservation of the home.
To that end, Elliott Levy, the executive director of the Aiken County Historical Museum, was contacted.
The goal now is to relocate the building to the museum grounds, ideally next to the red school house.
“It has historical value. This basically brings a link (of the eastern part of the county) into the heart of Aiken County,” Levy said. “That part of Aiken County has really good history.”
Levy envisions turning the house into an exhibit with displays on Kitchings Mill, Salley, Perry, Wagener and Monetta.
“We would not only save the house, but put it to good use. We need to make sure people know about these things so they can appreciate what they have,” Levy said.
Now, the goal is to find the funds to relocate the house.
Members of Aiken County Council have said that perhaps accommodations taxes can be appropriated to finance the move.
Bass couldn't be happier of the possibilities that lie ahead.
“I'm so delighted that we will be able to preserve (the history of Kitchings Mill) in the old library that Aunt Della built for honoring her mother. She is the epitome of what makes all communities great – caring, giving and active. I can think of no better way to honor her than to preserve the library,” she said.
Bass is seeking more history on Kitchings Mill and her family. Contact her at email@example.com.