The two story brick and masonry Classic Revival style building dominates Oates Drive in Newton.

Anchored by four huge white columns, the historic 36-room building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a distinction it has held since 1974.

Once the home of one of the oldest educational institutions in the Wiregrass, the Oates-Reynolds Memorial Building is home to the Newton Library and Museum.

Open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and overseen by Library and Museum Director Ashley Phelan, the building’s contents span a century, preserving mementos of the area’s history and presenting state of the art technology.

The Oates-Reynolds Memorial Building—also known as the Girls' Dormitory of the Baptist Collegiate Institute— was built in 1922 after the original Baptist Collegiate Institute burned in the early 1920s.

The BCI was founded in 1898 and produced more than 700 Baptist ministers between 1898-1929. It also served as the Newton Junior High and High School as well as part of the Newton College Afterwards, it served as the town courthouse and most recently housed the Newton City Hall.

The BCI alumni association purchased the building in 1973. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Marcus Rosser started the public library in the Oates-Reynolds Memorial Building in the mid 1970s and grant money was used to update the building as an agricultural museum. Money from a later grant was used to repair and renovate the structure and provide air conditioning for the bottom floor.

The Newton Library Board is comprised of Molly Holliman, chairman; Joel Casey, historian; Alice Maybee, treasurer; Martha Willis, member; and Jean Smith, secretary

Phelan has served as director of the facility since February. A month later, COVID-19 created state mandates closed the doors to the public but it was during that time that Phelan has reorganized and reconfigured the services offered.

There is no charge to get a library membership card. In additional to traditional books, the library has a computer room recently upgraded thanks to a $25,000 technology grant from the Alabama Public Library System. The library recently acquired a universal electronic device charging station. “We have high speed internet and computers available for our virtual learners,” Phelan said, adding that the library has recently acquired Mind Craft for Education. “The enhanced technology has been a game changer, a life changer.”

Phelan said that COVID-19 mandates to include masks and hand sanitizer are stressed but that curbside pickup is also available for those who prefer. “Call us at (334) 405-0279 and we can reserve a book and bring it out to your vehicle,” she said. “Our books are isolated for two weeks before being placed back into circulation so, no COVID cooties here.”

Phelan has started online story time on Wednesdays for elementary school and Fridays for middle school students. She plans to start Museum Mondays during which she will do educational Facebook Live broadcasts from sections of the museum.

For more seasoned members, the library is offering “Isolation Bingo” during the pandemic. That means that everyone participating will be seated at least six feet apart and disposable bingo boards will be used, Phelan explained.

Phelan said that Movie Day for senior citizens—complete with popcorn—will also resume as soon as possible.

Those who want assistance filling out the 2020 Census are invited to the library, Phelan said. She is also updating information resources for military veterans.

Pickers’ Day is held at the library building on the last Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. until noon. There is no charge to the family friendly event, Phelan said. “Just bring your instrument or your voice and join in.”

Heritage Day is planned for Sept. 25, Phelan said, encouraging those interested to follow the “Newton Library Museum” Facebook page for upcoming events.

The second floor contains the extensive collection of primitive agriculture tools, a re-creation of a girl’s dormitory room as it would have looked in the early 1900s, a replication of an old post office and a multitude of BCI memorabilia items.

“It used to be called the Newton Museum and Agricultural Museum but it’s expanded since then,” Phelan said.

“The first time they showed me around this building, my head just started popping with ideas of what we could do here,” Phelan said with a smile. “Now, I’m just trying to get all my dreams to become a reality.

“I believe that if you can get kids started reading early, that is something they can take with them the rest of their lives,” Phelan added. “I want to get kids excited about reading.”

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