SECRETS OF THE LIBRARY: Culpeper’s “Pot of Gold”

By Fran Cecere

It was a long journey from the start of a volunteer library to the present facility that now serves our community. In March, 2018, there will be a celebration for the 20 year anniversary of the Culpeper County Library in its present location. Before the construction of the new building, someone took a picture with a rainbow over the site. At that time, no one knew the library would turn out to be a “Pot of Gold” for the community.

Margaret Williams served as Assistant Director and retired in 2011 after 38 years with the Library.  Since then she has been considered to be the library’s historian. She is again helping the library by filling a temporary position until a new person can be hired. She said, “I have always loved to read and enjoy the public and my coworkers.” With her help, archived articles were located in the “vertical file drawers.”

In 1926, several women started the first library in the Town of Culpeper. Mary Williams of Washington D.C., (later Mrs. Harry St. George Tucker) rallied her friends to donate a large number of valuable books to start the project. Miss Lucile Nelson (later, Mrs. Charles Penniman), and other civic-minded citizens, were given a room, rent free, in the L.P. Nelson Building on East Davis Street. Cataloguing of books was done by young female volunteers. Book shelves were built by Culpeper High School students in their Woodshop Class.

In 1928, the Town Council and the Board of Supervisors of the County gave the library a room in the Municipal Building. Crimora Waite was appointed as the librarian and served in that capacity until 1983.The new entity was named the “Culpeper Town and County Library, Inc.” The library’s Executive Board was headed by the Superintendent of Schools, T. W. Hendrick, and had the support of L. Frank Smith and Kate F. Perry.

In 1946 it became a free public library, received a small State Aid Grant, and became a member of the Virginia State Library organization. Mr. Butch Davies remembers that eventually every available space was used for the books and manuscripts, and at times, they had to climb a ladder to get to the top of the piles.

In 1963 a library building was constructed at 105. E. Mason Street. Mr. Davies recalls the first time he entered that building. He stated it was “a spectacular site.” Davies also remembers that the library collected many publications from residents of Culpeper. The card catalogue system, with its many rows of drawers, enabled users to find the books they needed. A volunteer started the children’s program so they could enjoy story-telling, special events, and other entertainment.

Once again, as the community grew, people recognized that either the library would have to expand or they would need a new building. In 1995 the Library Foundation was started with the mission to raise funds for a new building. Wayne Bernardo was the Vice President of the Library Board. He stated, “The library was not just a repository for books, but was also a place to access information, and it held the nostalgic history of Culpeper.”

Quintin Mullins, a Foundation Board member stated, “There was broad-based community response to financially support a new library. Much of the success of fundraising belongs to the late Chris Jebson, Chairperson of the Library Board, who was instrumental in fundraising and support for a new facility.” Throughout the library there are plagues to recognize the donors who sponsored that area.

On July 1, 1996 the County took over the Mason Street building, renaming it the “Culpeper County Library”. In November a Bond Referendum was held. The public voted 4 to 1 that a new library should be built.  Marshall Gayheart donated the corner lot in the Southgate Shopping Center to the County so construction could be initiated. Culpeper County supplemented the funds that were raised. Bids were taken and the Library Foundation hired an architectural firm and a library interior designer. All participants wanted the new library to be warm and comfortable.

Susan Keller, the Director of the Library since 1997, stated, “This was a very exciting time. The interior designer told me to estimate how many computers we might need and then double that amount. The facility is still up-to-date and has the capacity to accommodate all the newest technology.” Because of the forethought of the designers, the number of electrical outlets, and telephone and data lines were greatly increased. Keller feels the attention to this detail and the coordination of all the furniture has enabled the facility to continue to be contemporary. In 2015 more space was needed and an addition was completed over the Christmas Holidays.

Many events for adults and children are planned for March, 2018. Keller said, “The Library turns 20. Celebrations will be held throughout the month of March.  Put us on your calendar and like us on Facebook so that you do not miss out on all the fun!”