The story of the library in Denver is also the story of a dedicated group of local residents, centered in Westport, avid readers all, who were determined not to have to drive 20 miles to Lincolnton to use a library.
It is the story, also, of Walt Shanklin, 90, a World War II veteran and Westport resident who had purchased 80 acres of land off Fairfield Forest Road, south of N.C. 16. The land had been used in part to raise thoroughbred horses that Walt's youngest daughter, Linda, loved to ride.
The East Lincoln Betterment Association (ELBA) began in 1979 the process that led almost 25 years later to the opening of the Florence Soule Shanklin Branch Library.
The first step occurred when the ELBA set aside $1,400 to purchase a 500-square-foot mobile trailer as a temporary library. Merchants donated furnishings for the library conversion, and True Value hardware store owner Joe Turbyfill donated materials for the split rail fence around the property.
The landscaping was completed by the Westport Garden Club, and the library was staffed by volunteers. In that first year, there were 600 registered borrowers, and the monthly book circulation was more than 1,000. The population of East Lincoln County at the time was approximately 3,000.
Four years later, in 1983, Lincoln County Commissioners, seeing the need for a library in Denver, approved leasing a 960-square-foot building on N.C. 16, nearly doubling the size of the library-in-a-trailer.
Mary Shanklin, Walt's daughter and a library volunteer, was named branch librarian. That year, there were 1,500 cardholders - approximately one-half of the adult population of the area - and a circulation of 16,000 books.
As the population of east Lincoln County increased, the need for a larger library became apparent. A drive for a permanent library began in 1994. That year, the library was moved again to a larger, leased location on N.C. 16. There were 3,000 cardholders and two full-time librarians in the new, fully computerized facility.
In August of 2000, Westport resident Walt Shanklin offered to donate almost 3 acres as the site of a permanent library and public garden. His only stipulation was that the library should be "built in a timely fashion." He requested also that the library be named for his late wife, Florence who had been a library volunteer for 17 years.
Walt's daughter Mary (now Mary Brown) speaks fondly of her mother, who died in 1999: "She was an avid reader. She always had a book in her hand - fiction, cooking, gardening."
Walt, married for 56 years to Florence, recalls that, "she always loved wildflowers and roses, and she had a vegetable garden in the summer."
And so the Florence Soule Shanklin library has a memorial garden and walking trail maintained by volunteers.
With Walt's land donation, Lincoln County Commissioners approved in 2001 a 6,000-square-foot library. The East Lincoln Branch Library Fund was established to raise $250,000 to furnish the library, a goal that was reached in two years. Construction began in March 2002, and it opened the following year.
About 18,000 books had to be moved from the previous location, but the task was accomplished in part by encouraging all cardholders to check out the maximum number of books allowed per patron. Returns were to be made to the new location.
The library was named by the N.C. Library Directors as "the best new library built in North Carolina in 2003." It houses 28,000 books and other materials and has more than 8,000 active borrowers, with an annual circulation of well over 100,000 books. It is the largest branch - in circulation and size - of the 11 branch libraries in the Gaston-Lincoln Regional system.
And it all began with the vision of a small group of dedicated volunteers, working out of a converted two-bedroom trailer on N.C. 16 in Denver.
"Build it and they will come!" Walt Shanklin said. And they did.