Library System Established in 1955
In 1949, the late Edith Steckler headed a movement to acquire a library in St. Martin Parish. She wrote the Louisiana State Library for information, assuring them that it was “not just one woman’s idea”: by quoting the recently organized Business and Professional Woman’s Club of St. Martinville’s intention to “get behind” a parish-wide library movement.
Steckler served as library chairman of the Business and Professional Woman’s Club, and under her leadership the requisite petitions were circulated throughout the parish, urging that the police jury establish a library.
On Jan. 3, 1950, the jury adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of a library, and became 13th on the Louisiana State Library’s waiting list for a demonstration library.
When St. Martin Parish moved from 13th to first place on the list, the state library contacted Steckler. The first library board was organized in 1954 with Steckler as president – a position she held until 1969. The other initial board members were the Reverend Henri Hamel of St. Martinville, Whitney LeBlanc of Breaux Bridge, the Reverend George Braquet of Cecilia, Paul Angelle of Breaux Bridge and Mrs. James Guiarard of St. Martinville.
The state library hired Hazel Sockrider to direct the project and sent 8,800 books into the parish. The police jury appropriated $14,000 to cover operating expenses. Hazel Sockrider Duchamp remained with the library until her retirement in 1981.
Dorothy Selby, Gary Phillips, Donna Soto, and Jeanne Essmeier served successively as managing librarians until 2010 when current director Charlar P. Brew began her tenure.
The first demonstration library opened on January 9, 1955, with Paul Angelle, Jr., president of the police jury, cutting the ribbon. The headquarters – St. Martinville Branch – was housed in the old Rousseau building at 204 South Main Street. On this same day, the Breaux Bridge Branch opened its doors at 200 East Bridge Street.
Then, on January 16, 1955, approximately 200 Negro citizens attended dedication ceremonies opening the Journet Branch at the Ladies of Progress Hall at 709 ½ South Main in St. Martinville. Afterwards, the group went to Breaux Bridge to open a Negro library branch in the same Bridge Street building as the white library but separated with an entrance on Domengeaux St.
Later that same year, the St. Martinville Town Council donated property along the Bayou Teche on New Market St. for the St. Martinville Library Branch and Headquarters.
Breaux Bridge’s Town Council also donated land for the Breaux Bridge Branch, which is still located on the corner of Courthouse and Main Streets next to the parish’s Agricultural Building. In August 1990, the structure was expanded to twice its original size. Then, in January 1999, a meeting room facility was added by renovating and connecting the former Health Unit that was provided by the Police Jury.
The St. Martin Parish School Board provided land for the Carver Branch at the corner of West Bridge and Courville Streets in Breaux Bridge, while the land for the Jorunet Branch on Horore Street in St. Martinville was purchased from Clarence Duchamp.
In November 1955, the Library Board unanimously approved plans for all four buildings at one time – a first for not only St. Martin Parish, but Louisiana as well.
Early in 1956, the St. Martin Police Jury awarded a $120,000 contract to Angelle Construction for the four library branches in Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville.
These original branches and a bookmobile served the public until 1978 when the Negro facilities were closed and the employees transferred to the St. Martinvlle and Breaux Bridge branches.
Belle River opened a “convenience” library in the Miller General Store in the late 1960s. It was opened less than 10 hours a week and served as a bookmobile stop.
In 1982, a part-time branch was opened in Cecilia. The St. Martin Parish School Board entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the St. Martin Parish Library and one of the science buildings on the old Cecilia High School Campus was refurbished so that a part-time library branch could be established.
In 1991, Mrs. Paul Angelle willed an acre of land in Paul Angelle Park for a Cecilia Library Branch, and in August 1992, construction began on a 3,000 square foot library at a cost of $227,770. Dedication ceremonies were held June 1993.
Summer branches were opened in the Parks and Catahoula school libraries during 1982.
Four part-time branches were opened in the early Nineties. In 1991, the Parks branch was opened in a building donated and renovated by the Village of Parks. In 1992, in cooperation with the St. Martin School Board, branches were opened in the libraries of Catahoula Elementary and Stephensville Elementary schools. In 1996, the Arnaudville Branch was opened in a building donated by the Frederick family to the Town of Arnaudville for this specific purpose.
The Friends of the St. Martin Public Library organization was formed in 1984 and remains a support group for the libraries.
In August 1991, the Albert G. Olivier family donated property at 201 Porter Street, the former site of Albert G. Olivier Lumber Co. and Brothers Lumber & Hardware.
The St. Martinville Library moved from its old quarters on the banks of Bayou Teche to the 14,246 square foot facility on Porter Street in April 1994.
In December 2013, the Breaux Bridge Library moved to a temporary location in the Park Plaza Shopping Center during construction of the new library. The newly constructed, 12,558 square foot facility was completed in May 2015 and is located on Main Street in Breaux Bridge.
In May 2017, the Cecilia Branch Library moved to a temporary location next door to the former St. Martin Parish School Board Technology Center. The newly renovated 5,363 square foot facility was completed in December 2018 and is located at 2460 Cecilia Senior High School Highway in Cecilia.
This rural parish has been in, or near, the forefront of progress from the onset – from traditional story times to exposure to a myriad of educational and cultural programs and performers; from local collections to the interlibrary loans from ever expanding areas of resources; from various print formats up to the current delivery of information in electronic format. The role of automation and digital access is growing alongside the provision of traditional library materials and services.
Our patrons are “in the stacks” and traveling the “information superhighway” with the rest of the global villages. The library remains in its rightful role as central to the communities and growing population.
It remains true, the mission of St. Martin Parish Library is to provide all patrons of the parish with equal access to high quality informational and technological resources to meet the diverse needs of the community for information, life-long learning and enjoyment.
“St. Martin Parish Library: where facts, ideas, and fantasies are a check-out away.”
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