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Carnegie letters collection featured at Archives

Posted: February 17, 2015 4:47 p.m.
Updated: February 18, 2015 1:00 a.m.

The Camden Archives and Museum is currently featuring an exciting and interesting new collection -- one which serendipitously came to the museum just in time for its centennial.

The museum is displaying a collection of letters and papers entitled “100 Years: Camden’s Carnegie Library, 1915-2015,” giving an exciting glimpse into the efforts it took to bring the building we now know as the Camden Archives and Museum to the community, Director Katherine Richardson said.

“Few people today realize that the archives started out as a public library, a Carnegie library,” Richardson said.

More specifically, the building was part of a massive, nationwide philanthropic endeavor put forth by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, she said. Carnegie always credited his stellar success to the access he enjoyed to a public library when he was a young man, Richardson said.

“He taught himself -- pulled himself up by his bootstraps when he was a very young man -- and said that he wanted that same knowledge to be accessible to anyone who wanted to help better themselves,” she said.

He would found the Carnegie Corporation in 1911, whose mission was and is to promote international peace and the advancement of education and knowledge, she said. In Carnegie’s lifetime he would build more than 1,000 public libraries in communities across the country, including libraries in Camden, Sumter, Darlington, Latta, Spartanburg, Kingstree, Anderson, Beaufort, Greenwood, Honea Path, Marion and Union.

Nonetheless, it would take the efforts of one extraordinary woman to bring Carnegie’s vision to Camden: Sarah “Sadie” Kennedy Von Tresckow.

According to Richardson, Von Tresckow was Born in Camden to Alexander Dalton and Martha Bissell Kennedy. Richardson said she was a very well educated woman, having attended Agnes Scott College, the University of Tennessee, and Berlin University, from which she graduated.

While well-liked in the community, Von Tresckow was also quite a force to be reckoned with, Richardson noted. A woman of prodigious energies, Von Tresckow served as regent of the Hobkirk Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and as past-president of the John D. Kennedy Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy. She was instrumental in the founding of the Wateree Society of the Children of the American Revolution. She also worked with the American Red Cross, Camden Civic League, the Camden Library Association, Quaker Cemetery, the Kershaw County Historical Society, Tamassee School, and was past-president of the World Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was a teacher of long standing in the community.  From 1920 until 1937, she accompanied her husband around abroad as he served as United States Consul to Chile, Germany, Holland, Nova Scotia and Yugoslavia. 

 “She must have been quite a character,” Richardson said. “She was obviously a very strong-willed person, one who accomplished quite a lot. Apparently, when she wanted things to happen, they happened. In this case, she really single-handedly was the one who made this library happen.”

One of Von Tresckow’s projects was to secure a grant for a Carnegie Library to be established in Camden. The letters on display in the museum’s conference room are all reflective of that incredible effort.

“It’s really wonderful, because it does give us some idea of what went into having this building constructed here,” Richardson said. “We have no pictures of those times. We have nothing that shows us the building as it was being built. So these letters give us a wonderful glimpse really into how we got here and where we are today.”

Interestingly enough, no one really knew the letters existed until recently, when Charlotte Alexander -- Von Tresckow’s niece and a Camden resident -- appeared at the archives with the letters.

“One day, she just came by with this collection,” Richardson said. “It was perfect timing, really, just in time for our centennial.”

The Camden Archives and Museum is hosting a centennial reception March 9 from 2 to 4 p.m. The public is invited. For more information about this or other upcoming events and exhibits call 425-6050.

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