Thursday, May 9, 2019

All that glitters is not gold - sometimes it's silver!

Treasures from the Kellenberger Room

Featuring books, pamphlets, photographs, documents, and the occasional object from the collections of the New Bern-Craven County Public Library

by John B. Green III

Two-handles cup, sterling silver,
possibly Barbour Silver Company, ca. 1912.

Here at the Kellenberger Room we collect the usual things that a library and archive would collect - books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, documents, and photographs. We generally don't collect objects although we have acquired a handful over the last hundred years or so, mostly relating to the history of the New Bern-Craven County Public Library as an institution. It is unusual, therefore, to come across an object in our collection, made of sterling silver no less, which at first glance bears no relationship to the history of the library or to New Bern. The cup's inscription and a bit of research, though, provides the answer to our ownership.

The cup is inscribed "Leah J. Stevens, From Friends, For Excellent Service in Graded School, Beaufort N.C., July 25th 1912." The name is a familiar one, for Leah Jones Stevens (1864-1928) was one of the founders of this library. The New Bern-Craven County Public Library can trace its origin to the year 1890 when a local chapter or "circle" of the International Order of the King's Sons and Daughters was established by Miss Carrie D. Mayhew. Also known as "The King's Daughters and Sons" or KDS, this "interdenominational Christian philanthropic" organization had been founded in New York City in 1886. Miss Mayhew quickly established the creation of a free, circulating library as the circle's principal community effort. When Miss Mayhew's health began to fail in 1895, Leah Jones Stevens assumed the leadership of the library effort and was responsible for securing the purchase of the library's first home, the former New Bern Yacht Club building on the Neuse River at the foot of Broad Street. This building, formerly a boat house and club house, sat on pilings over the river and was approached by a wharf. The purchase included five row boats which were repaired and rented by the library. The library was reorganized in 1902 as the New Bern Circulating Library, eventually becoming the New Bern Public Library and finally the New Bern-Craven County Public Library in the 1960s.

Portrait, oil on canvas, of Leah Jones Stevens,
by Georgia Pearsall Hearne, 1937, based on an earlier image.

Leah D. Jones (Mrs. Charles L. Stevens) is remembered not only as a founder of the library but as a pioneer educator in North Carolina having taught for more than thirty years in both private and public schools. She was a leader in state-wide efforts to improve teacher training and the quality of school buildings. She served as superintendent of the Beaufort Graded School in 1911 and 1912 and is said to have been the first woman to serve as a school superintendent in North Carolina. It was during her time at Beaufort that she received the silver cup now in our collection.

Leah Jones Stevens died in New Bern on May 24, 1928. Her family presented the above portrait to the library in her memory in 1937.