Highlands Stratford Branch Library
1927 - The Start
In January 1927, County Librarian Ruth Underwood met with two groups of women to discuss possible library needs in the Highlands area; however, nothing was definitively decided from these meetings.
In April of the same year, two more meetings convened. The meetings were well attended, and Underwood was able to complete plans and arrangements for a library station to serve the community. Books were delivered in May to a local store that would serve as the HCPL library station for the Highlands area.
The new station was opened that same May with Roselle Harris as acting librarian and head of circulation. The book collection was small but very well used by the community. At the end of its first month, the station had 159 books and a circulation count of 328.
Thanks to the Tyrell-Garth Company, the station moved into a room in a newly constructed brick building that also housed the post office. In the first month of being in the new room, over 400 books circulated.
By the end of the 1920s, the branch librarian was Aquila Norris. In 1931, Norris was replaced by Louise Davis. And in January 1936, Louise's mother Cornelia Davis became the librarian, a position she held until 1955.
Circulation tripled from 2,906 in 1930 to 9,049 by the end of 1936. The library temporarily relocated to a vacant store in the summer of 1936 because the post office needed to expand.
The Highlands Garden Club wanted a better library space and raised $600 from the Highlands community for a new building. Railroad owner and Highlands landowner Harry K. Johnson donated a lot and matched the community funds. The plan involved constructing a 15'x25' building with a small bathroom attached for the librarian's use. Construction began in November 1936 (seen here).
On March 13, 1937, the new library building officially opened on the corner of Magnolia and San Jacinto St.
Baytown Sun publisher W.L. Pendergraft delivered the dedicatory address, and Mrs. B.E. Campbell gifted the library with a new set of World Book Encyclopedias.
Throughout the day, there was an open house presided over by branch librarian Cornelia Davis. In 1937, this building was one of the largest library branches in Harris County.
The Highlands Garden Club paid the bills for the library branch until 1946 when the county took over financing its upkeep.
On January 6, 1948, Librarian Cornelia Davis (seen here) requested that local radio station KREL run a publicity ad for the library.
In April 1950, the Texas Library Association held its annual meeting in Houston at the Rice Hotel. This was a prime opportunity for HCPL to showcase their growing library system, including the Highland branch's success.
In February 1955, Cornelia Davis resigned due to illness after 19 years of running the Highlands branch. Her daughter-in-law Pat Davis and her granddaughter Sherril Davis took over in the interim while the branch looked for a new librarian.
Vivian Wolfe became the new branch librarian in September 1955. At the time of her arrival, the library branch was only open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 1:30-5:30 pm, and Saturdays from 8-12:00 pm, for a total of 16 hours a week.
The Garden Club, the group so instrumental in acquiring the building for the branch, planted a holly tree in February 1956 at the library in memory of Cornelia Davis, who had passed away from her illness.
After two decades, the Highlands branch was beginning to outgrow the building that had seemed so big back in 1937. Circulation increased steadily through the 1950s as more schools opened in the area, including Lynchburg School and Highlands Junior High School. Ninety-two boys and girls signed up for the summer reading program in 1959.
In 1963, Anna Stratford donated a lot on Kerry Avenue to be used as a new library building site. That same year, the Highlands Garden Club began petitioning Harris County Commissioner V. V. Ramsey for a new building for the community. The library had vastly outgrown the building from 1937, which lacked bathroom facilities as well as air-conditioning.
In 1964, Highlands student Virgil Hoppe wrote an editorial in the Highlands Star asking citizens to support a new library building. The current building was stuffed full of books, with extras stacked in a back room. There was no space for students to sit and read or study.
In 1965, planning finally began for a new building on the site donated by Anna Stratford. The building was to be renamed Stratford in honor of her donation.
On March 27, 1966, the grand opening ceremony for the newly dedicated Stratford Library building took place. The new building was 1,200 square feet, three times larger than the previous building.
Branch Librarian Vivian Wolfe cut the ribbon to officially open the new library building with Harris County Library Board member Mary Taylor.
Vivian Wolfe (right) with Commissioner V. V. Ramsey and his wife at the grand opening.
In 1970, area Little League yearbooks were displayed at the library during baseball season for anyone who wished to view them.
On April 20, 1971, Vivian Wolfe held an open house at the Stratford branch for National Library Week.
In 1975, the branch celebrated serving the Highlands community for over 20 years.
In 1978, a cut in library hours caused community concern.
Branch librarian Barbara Darbutt is pictured here in 1981. By that time, the library also had a new parking lot, landscaping, and paint.
In June 1983, customers wrote to Commissioner Jim Fonteno about the need for a larger library.
In August 1983, citizens of the area and Library Director Cathy Park met with Commissioner Fonteno’s assistant, Molly Maness, to discuss library plans.
In the monthly report for August 1983, the branch librarian noted that there was no significant damage to the building from Hurricane Alicia other than wet carpet. The branch was closed from August 17-24th during the storm.
On September 29, 1983, the branch learned that they had been awarded a $100,000 grant from TSLAC which they hoped to use to construct a new building.
On October 4, 1983, it became apparent that the $100,000 grant from TSLAC plus $100,000 from the county would not cover the complete cost of a new building, which was estimated at $215,000. Commissioner’s Court decided to table the issue and withdraw the grant application. Judge Jon Lindsay cited recent cleanup measures taken after Hurricane Alicia as the reason additional County funds were unavailable.
Branch librarian Barbara Darbutt was happy that the media attention surrounding the budget issues raised awareness of the library.
On November 3, 1983, Commissioner Fonteno announced that the library would be renovated instead of being completely rebuilt.
In June 1984, renovations were planned, adding 1,500 square feet to the library building, doubling its size with funding from a 1979 bond issue. Features of the renovation included water fountains, a staff room, higher ceilings, more shelving for books.
On December 16, 1985, the branch reopened after the renovation. The Highlands Garden Club donated the original 1930s building to the Highlands Chamber of Commerce.
Willie Pennington (seen here in 1991) started working at the Stratford Library as a children's librarian in 1985. A lifelong resident of the Highlands, Pennington was well-loved in the community and the library system. In 1986, when Prince Charles visited the Highlands retirement home Mountbatten House, Willie Pennington went to meet the Prince with Branch Librarian Alex Jernigan.
In 1992, she won Employee of the Quarter for the months of October through December.
Another photo of Willie Pennington surrounded by children in the community in 1992.
Unfortunately, in 1994 Willie Pennington passed away.
On November 9, 1995, the children’s area was dedicated to Willie Pennington. Jeanette Jett, a friend and colleague, gave a speech at the dedication ceremony.
The 1995 Summer Reading Program at the Stratford Branch was funded by Raymond Gonzalez, seen here presenting a check to Jeanette Jett, Assistant Children's Librarian.
In 1999, the Highlands community began to advocate for another new library building. The 2,900 square foot branch would have been replaced with a new 8,000 square foot facility on property adjacent to Highlands Elementary School. However, the proposal fell through.
In 2002, library supporters in the area renewed the push for a new building for the Stratford branch. They were hoping to secure $3.3 million for the project. However, expansion plans were tabled at a September Commissioners Court meeting, citing the upcoming election. The project was put on hold the following year when no funds were allocated in the library's budget for an expansion.
The Stratford Branch staff in 2008: Sarah Davis, Katherine Parker, Martha Gamez, and Lori Delome.
In 2008, Jennifer Crouse became the new Children's Librarian at Stratford.
The former Highlands Library building in 2010 (pictured). After renovations, it continued to serve as the home of the Highlands Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce.
In 2011, Mandy Carrico became the new Branch Librarian at Stratford.
In May 2013, the Highlands Volunteer Fire Department visited the branch for a program on fire safety.
Stratford staff dressed up for Halloween in 2017.
The Book Buddies program at HCPL pairs trained volunteers (Big Buddies) with children in Kindergarten through 3rd grades (Little Buddies). For 10 weeks, the Buddies meet once a week in the afternoon for 45 minutes of one-on-one shared reading.
In 2018, Stratford staff facilitated the Book Buddies program at Bonnie P. Hopper Primary in the Highlands. And in 2019 the program was adapted for use at Ashbel Smith Elementary School in Baytown (the school had been an HCPL station in the 1940s).
In 2019, several outdoor programs took advantage of the branch's proximity to Stratford Park. The Houston Astronomical Society visited in early June for a stargazing program. And later that month the library held a Summer Cookout event for Highlands families.
As 2020 progressed and the Coronavirus pandemic struck Harris County, the Stratford Branch staff transitioned to virtual service. The staff helped customers adjust to the new curbside service, signed customers up for the Virtual Art Camp, and designed customized book bundles (book bundle and thank you from a customer pictured).
In December 2020, while the branch was closed to the public due to COVID-19, the County installed new flooring in the building.
While the Stratford Branch staff miss their daily face-to-face interaction with customers, they have found new ways to connect with the community.