The effort to preserve the Kitchings Mill Library has been a complex one.
The building was occupied by the Kitchings’ descendants until 2012 when Jerry Waters, who last owned the property, was contacted by the family of then-resident Virginia Surles, who was moving into an assisted living home. Surles tasked Waters to assist in the preservation of the old library.
The initial suggestion was to move the Kitchings Mill structure to the Aiken County Library. But it was later pitched to move to the Aiken County Historical Museum, located in the City of Aiken on Newberry Street. The request was approved by the City Design Review Board in early March on the condition that it have a better idea of where the building would sit on the museum’s property.
A variance request was later filed by the County but was unanimously denied by the City’s Board of Zoning Appeals in May. The proposed placement of the library deviated from the 50-feet minimum setback, which is required by the City’s zoning ordinance. The County wanted to avoid setting the structure on a steep hill on the museum’s property, which would have made it difficult to access.
The board also received several negative comments about the possible relocation of the library to the museum from Aiken City residents who felt the structure wasn’t a good fit for the area.
Wagener Mayor Mike Miller later proposed that the library be moved to his town. In June, Aiken County Council approved the relocation of the building to Wagener.
The old Kitchings Mill Library is expected to move to Wagener in February.
J.E. Oswalt and Sons, which is based in Batesburg, has been tasked to move the historic building that was constructed more than 100 years ago from its current location on Highway 4 to the end of Park Street in Wagener. Approximately $20,000 from Aiken County's contingency fund will be used for this preservation project.
Initially, the Town of Wagener was aiming to have the structure moved in November or December, but the ground at the park in which it's moving to needs grading, and the roof of the old library may have to be temporarily removed during the relocation.
“It looks like the wheels are turning,” said Wagener Town Mayor Mike Miller. “It's in progress.”
Now that plans are becoming more concrete, local historians are looking for any artifacts to display in the former library, which will serve as a museum and a small community center once it's in place.
Dr. Debbie Bass' great grandmother was the sister of Della Kitching, who established the library with her husband James at about the turn of the 20th century to promote literacy in the area. Bass has a collection of books from the library that cover a wide variety of topics such as history and religion. She said the books, which are quite old, were dispersed to family members and other members of the community when the library closed.
Many of the books were donated to the library and have inscriptions in the front. Bass plans to do the same herself and donate a few books from her collection to be put on display.
Bass said Della Kitching was a very smart business lady who saw an importance in literacy.
“She saw a need for education for everyone,” Bass said. “She thought it was very important.”
To donate items or share information about the of history Kitchings Mill and the eastern portion of the county, email Kitchingmillhistory@gmail.com.
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va. and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College.