Upon its opening in 1889, the Mary Willis Library was the first free library in Georgia. It was founded by Dr. Francis T. Willis in memory of his daughter and as a gift to the people of his hometown and county. Dr. Willis left Washington for Richmond, Virginia, in 1867 and never lost his love for Wilkes County and its people. An 1894 catalog of the library states that the cost of the building was $15,000, the furniture and the first collection of books, $2,000, and that a fund of $10,000 was provided by Dr. Willis as endowment. Dr. Willis also donated his personal library, as did his half-brother, Samuel Barnett, first president of the library trustees. Many rare books from that core collection are still held by the library, as well as an extensive archive of local and regional ephemera.
Architect Edmund Lind of Atlanta designed the library building. Stained-glass windows illuminate the interior and the central window, commemorating Mary Willis, was made by Tiffany.
National Register of Historic Places
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