In the 20 years since its founding, the Round Top Family Library has grown and changed with the community it serves.

“A library brings people together when it serves the community as a whole regardless of our individual differences,” said Barbara Smith, library director since 2004. “Everybody involved with the library—staff, board members and volunteers—strive to work with respect and unity to fulfill the needs of the entire community.”

Originally conceived as a children’s library, the Round Top Family Library broadened its offerings as community needs were identified and met. For instance, initially the library provided art after school and later music. Ultimately, the Round Top-Carmine school district adopted the arts and music curriculum, supported by the Round Top-Carmine Education Foundation.

As a community resource, the library, which holds the distinction of being the smallest accredited full-service public library in Texas, prides itself on partnerships.

“Working together allows us all to do more,” Smith said.

Programs for Children

While the local school now has art education, the library continues its long-term partnership with ARTS of Rural Texas to provide art instruction after school. To instill an early passion for reading, the library works with the local school district to provide traditional and neighborhood story times. During the latter, Pre-K students travel to local destinations such as a business and enjoy a story related to the setting.

During June and July, the library is filled with area children participating in a variety of summer enrichment and educational activities designed to encourage reading.

The library also hosts the only Junior Master Gardeners program in four counties. The library’s youth advisory committee, with representatives from each grade in the high school, provide ideas for programs and activities to enhance their education. Each year scholarships are awarded to graduating seniors.

Programs for Adults

Volunteers teach adult yoga classes two evenings a week. Senior citizens gather monthly for game time and other social events. Local experts share their knowledge through a monthly FYI presentation. The restored Rummel Haus is available for meetings and private gatherings. Community volunteers and Master Gardeners meet at library’s Grace Memorial Garden on the first Monday of each month to share their passion for gardening while maintaining the beautiful landscape.

“The library wouldn’t be able to keep its doors open without the people who freely share leadership, volunteer time and monetary contributions,” Smith said. “Within our walls, people fulfill the needs of the library and the community but they also fulfill our collective human need to serve the greater good.”

The partnerships, the programs and the opportunities bring people together.

“By name, we’re a library, but by function we’re a community center,” Smith said. “It’s a place where everyone is welcome. The library is a gathering place where people can share ideas and experiences enriching themselves and others.”

From the Ground Up

The Round Top Family Library traces its origins to a big dream shared by Chris and Cheryl Travis, formerly of Round Top, who now live in Pine Grove, Colo.

“It was a big wild hare of a dream, rooted in our desire to bring art and music to the area’s children,” Chris said.

Cheryl, a lifelong educator who specialized in early childhood education, saw the power of the arts in her Montessori schools. Chris, a restoration builder by trade, tackled children’s issues as an avocation. Their son was a fifth grader when they moved to Round Top in 1991.

“It just felt like something that needed to be done,” Chris said.

While personal experiences fueled their passion, the Travises were inspired by the unlikely presence of the Round Top Festival Institute and its motto: Why dream the ordinary?

“What they accomplished there was utterly impossible,” Chris said. “We just told ourselves, ‘If they can do it, so can we.’”

Along with La Grange-based architect Ed Mattingly, who designed Festival Hill’s concert hall façade, the Travises incorporated the non-profit Round Top Library Association in 1999. Next they obtained a 30-year-lease for $1/year from the Texas Pioneer Arts Foundation (now the Bybee Foundation) on the two-acre property holding the historic Rummel House, which was renovated, outfitted and opened with financial and in-kind donations.

Programs and rooms filled. One day Chris was driving his grandmother to an appointment at Temple’s Scott and White Hospital. A peeling gothic church standing alone in a pasture near Buckholts in Milam County caught his eye.

Later investigation revealed the former Hope Lutheran Church building was owned by Elbert Svetlik, a 92-year-old Czech farmer. When his congregation voted to build a new brick church in the 1960s, Svetlik couldn’t bear for the church to be destroyed, so he moved it to his property and used it for a hay barn. Svetlik initially refused to part with the structure until Chris hit on the idea of repurposing the church as a library.

“Mr. Svetlik wholeheartedly agreed to the idea—for a price,” Chris said.

Chris drew up preliminary plans for repurposing the old church into a library that reflected the building’s history. He and Cheryl hosted a dinner for the library advisory board with the hope of generating a few seed donations for a capital campaign. Not a single check emerged.

“Our hopes took a beating,” Chris said.

The bruises healed quickly.

The next day, the Travises’ phone rang. Cheryl answered. It was Sterling McCall, a local resident and philanthropist, calling to say he and his wife Marianne wanted to underwrite the library construction project.  

Shocked Cheryl blurted, “…you mean the whole thing?”

McCall confirmed their intent.

Things began to move across three counties. The old church had to be cut into seven pieces. On Nov. 15, 2001, the first sections of the Marianne and Sterling McCall Library Building arrived in Round Top.

“Sterling and Marianne McCall were the wind beneath the library’s wings, but from the beginning it was one of those things that just had momentum,” Chris said. “Cheryl and I kick started the process, but a huge community of people made it possible—and kept it going.”

Cheryl added, “The library has surpassed our wildest imaginings.”

“And we dream big,” Chris said.

Photos courtesy of Round Top Family Library