Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ted Richmond's Wilderness Library

I was looking through a book about the Ozarks I acquired recently, Ozarks Mountain Folk: These Were the Last, A Portfolio of Photographs by Townsend Godsey.

In this photo-essay on the people and region, I found a picture of something intriguing (actually, it's all intriguing!). It was a little log cabin library called Ted Richmond's Wilderness Library. Who was Ted Richmond, I wondered, and what's the story on this little library?

The book provides little in the way of biographical information about Ted Richmond, but does offer interesting anecdotes about his tenure in the hills and efforts to bring books to the rural region. Mostly, the text was a teaser that created a mystery about who Ted Richmond was, where he came from, and where he went.

The following account of Ted Richmond and his life in the Ozarks accompanies the above photos in the book:
While homesteading 160 acres of some of the wildest land in the Ozarks, Ted Richmond brought book culture to the blackills. But land speculators and promoters of mid-century made life so miserable for him because of his stand favoring conservation that he was forced to leave his beloved hills and his Wilderness Library.

Nevertheless, he left his mark on the minds of many hillfolks. The bookman, who sometimes wrote a column or verse under the name of "Twilight Ted" shared his small log cabin with his library and his goats. Seven rugged paths led to the library where hillfolk came to borrow a season's supply of good reading material.

A steady stream of books came in response to hundreds of letters from book reviewers and other booklovers throughout the United States. They supplied him with more than 25,000 books and many magazines for his library. Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt was one of his most famous contributors and after her husband's death sent a large number of the president's books to Ted who toted them two miles down the rocky Mount Sherman trail to the Wilderness Library.
The Roosevelt anecdote reminded me of another President Roosevelt whose book donation to another unique library I wrote about on this blog here.

As for wanting to know more about Ted Richmond, I found a few other sources of material on the Internet to supplement the brief sketch by Townsend Godsey more than 30 years ago. Collectively, they provide answers about his life and work with books in his library.

Dennis L. Raney appears to be the authority on Ted Richmond and his library, having put together a Web site called Ted Richmond's Wilderness Library, as well as an informative page on the The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

The Web site hasn't been updated in a few years, but it contains some interesting pieces of Ted Richmond's life as well as a photo of related artifacts exhibited at the Newton County Library. At the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture site, we learn that Ted Richmond had a little experience putting a library together under somewhat unusual circumstances.

As a private during World War I, Richmond served in France and after the war stayed there to help organize an American library at the University of Toulouse. Back in the states, he worked as a journalist until about 1931 when he began homesteading on Mount Sherman in Newton County, Arkansas. Lending his books soon followed and planted the seed for a wilderness library.

This site also has three interesting pictures of Ted Richmond in his library, one of which is provided by Dennis Raney (first of three below), who created the Web site mentioned above. The other two photos were taken during the filming of Wilderness Library by Norman and Cy Weissman for the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the year attributed to them is 1951. But the Wikipedia page for the USIA asserts that the USIA was not formed until 1953.

At, a Web site about some beautiful vacation cabins in the Ozarks wilderness near where Ted Richmond once lived and operated his library, I found a couple of items that add to what I've already assembled from other sources. Another book is mentioned that references Ted Richmond and the Wilderness Library: Ozark Cabin Folks, by Paul Faris. This book is said to contain a very good account of Ted and his library.

This last source also had a another photo of Ted Richmond and Hugh Raney, whom I assume is a relative of Dennis Raney. They are examining books on the front porch of the library.

After some 25 years among the hills and people of that region, Ted Richmond just left one day and never returned to live. His disappearance became a mystery and probably grist for the rumor mill, but Dennis Raney found the traces of what happened. Ted moved to Texarkana and married and lived out his days there. Raney's research, if you haven't already perused it, fills in the details. Mystery solved, but the intrigue about this man and his humble library flourishes, much as the "Wilderness Library" once did.