Historic Kitchings Mill library makes its way to a new home
WAGENER — The historic Kitchings Mill Library moved to its permanent home in Wagener on Thursday following a two-year effort by Aiken County officials and residents to preserve the structure.
- The Kitchings Mill Library was established by Della and James Kitching around the turn of the century.
- Della, a farmer and known for her parties, wanted to promote literacy to the Kitchings Mill community. She stocked the library, set up a foundation to maintain it and dedicated it to the memory of her mother, Harriet Kitching.
- About 25 years later, the foundation was no longer able to sustain the library so the property reverted to Della.
- The Kitchings Mill Library building was occupied by Della’s 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.
Residents stopped their cars as police escorts drove by, and some even took pictures of the large J.E. Oswalt and Sons truck carrying the library through the heart of Wagener and down Park Street.
History of library’s move to Wagener:
• The building was occupied by Kitching 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 Public 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 2013. 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 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 2013, Aiken County Council approved the relocation of the building to Wagener.
• In January, the structure was aimed to move to the Town of Wagener by February.
• In July, the Kitchings Mill Library finds its new home in Wagener.
Town officials were able to finalize the process of moving the library into its new location from Highway 4 after Aiken County Council unanimously approved the structure's move last year. The County used approximately $20,000 of its contingency fund for the project's preservation. The decision to relocate the building came after a long back-and-forth debate on whether the library would better fit inside Aiken city limits or somewhere else within Aiken County.
Wagener Mayor Mike Miller, who suggested the library come to Wagener, said the move has been a chore, but well worth it.
“I think a lot of people have anticipated the move, and we're just glad to have it here,” Miller said. “We're going to start working on the library as soon as we can. ... It's going to look good, and I want it to look like it did when it was what it used to be. I just want to thank everyone for helping out, and donations are always welcome.”
The library was originally established by Della and James Kitching in the 1880s to promote literacy in the Kitchings Mill community. Della, a matriarch of the community, stocked the library and even set up a foundation to maintain it. She later dedicated it in memory of her mother, Harriet Kitching.
About 25 years later, the foundation was unable to sustain the library so the property became Della's once again. Della's descendants later occupied the property until 2012.
It was suggested the library move to the Aiken County Historical Museum after the Aiken Design Review Board approved its move, on the condition that the Board see its location before it was placed.
Former Museum Executive Director Elliott Levy wanted to turn the house into an exhibit with displays on Kitchings Mill, Salley, Perry, Wagener and Monetta.
A variance request later filed by the County was denied by the City's Board of Zoning Appeals, in part because the structure wouldn't be a good fit for the area.
The library now sits off Park Street, next to the fire department and behind an old red structure that once sat by the railroad tracks and was later moved to its current location. That building will be revitalized by the Wagener Garden Club.
County Council member Kathy Rawls, whose district covers Wagener, said she's thrilled for the move.
“And now, renovations can start, such as replacing the roof,” Rawls said. “It's been a long time coming, but it sure is great. It's just very unique to see something like that (library) moved.”
To donate items or share information about the history of Kitchings Mill and the eastern portion of the county, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.