Fairhope Public Library was the result of Ernest B. Gaston, who lived from 1861 to 1937. He stated once that Fairhope and the Single Tax Colony concept was a poor man’s effort. However, the town of Fairhope, right from the start, had attracted many who were considered high on the spiritual and intellectual and character ladder. Since those early beginnings, the town of Fairhope has nurtured democracy and equality for all.
Single Tax families started to create homesteads in the untamed environment (at that time) and before six months had gone by, George B. Lang donated his collection of books, which formed the basis of the Fairhope Free Library. It was much visited by residents and passersby alike. Even that first basic book collection brought relaxation and pleasure for the early settlers after they had been working hard all day, as well as when the weather was bad.
Fairhope has had a library of informative books available to its residents from the beginning, and counts itself very fortunate to have done so. A Utopian Colony called the Mexican Utopia was put to words and history in a book called Cat’s Paw Utopia, from writer Ray Reynolds. Edward Howland, quite ill when he left New Jersey, survived for only 2 years after joining this bleak location in Sinaloa, Mexico. He died on Christmas Eve in 1890 and his wife, Marie Howland, stayed there and edited the small newspaper. She set up a library and used Howland’s collection as a core.
The idea of a Utopian Mexican colony failed right after the colony itself did, and the widow Howland returned to the U.S., along with her book collection. She’d heard of the Single Tax Colony idea proposed by Henry George, as it had been established at Fairhope. She sent letters to her friends in the U.S., along with the first settlers of Fairhope. In 1899 and full of hope herself, she arrived in Fairhope and set up her household.
She became an editorial assistant to Earnest B. Gaston, who had The Fairhope Courier — a newspaper circulated around the world. Howland contributed open letters to the paper, addressed to her friends across the globe, and she spoke about her life and what experiences she had had, as well as the Single Tax Colony in Fairhope.
Howland spoke about her trees, plants, and roses in her letters, after she had settled into her cottage amongst the Fairhope pines. She loved her friends and working in her garden. Discussion groups pleased her and she was influential amongst the global readers of the newspaper she contributed to. A reader of her letters wondered about Fairhope and thought that it must be a dull, cultureless place, because it was small.
Howland replied that there was not enough time to see and do everything available to a person in Fairhope. This still rings true today. This woman wanted to establish a small library in the town so she had her collection of books shipped to her from Kansas. Her friends across the country and the world also sent her some of their own books for the library and collection. Neighbors made bookshelves to accommodate the burgeoning collection. She even had bookshelves on her covered porch.
Around 1900 was when the inhabitants of Fairhope started to use their fledgling library. Howland got so busy keeping track of the lending library that others chipped in to help. Part of the money to keep the library going was contributed by the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation. Howland was personally in charge, and her system worked smoothly. She was personally acquainted with every volume in the library. She loved to stack the small books with others of their “kind” and so on with the larger books.
A wealthy soap maker had given $1,000 towards a library building but after a hurricane in 1906 destroyed a school building, the money went towards that. In 1908, Howland donated her entire collection to the Single Taxpayer’s Corp. to hold in trust as well as run the library. Howland continued on for 9 more years and school children loved to help her. As she started to get sick, she was unable to keep the library open for as long as she wanted to, but with help and funds did manage to at least keep it open and available for two days of the week.
A simple funeral service was held for this pioneering woman as she died in 1921, and it was inside of the library building so dear to her heart. Ernest B. Gaston and Reverend Wood presided over the service and her body now lies in the colony cemetery at the corner of Oak and Section streets. The old Fairhope Public Library got a larger room and a front porch in 1919, the result of a gift from a Mr. Fels.
Much as changed over the years. The library expanded and moved, and finally the beautiful new and modern library building was built on Fairhope Avenue. Many private Fairhope citizens contributed to help raise the private funds needed to supplement construction loans and gifts from the City of Fairhope and the Single Tax Corporation. We think E. B Gaston would be very proud to now see the huge contribution that the library makes to the education and enjoyment of the entire community.