Written by Nancy Moore
Fifty years ago this month, the Central Rappahannock Regional Library was launched as a demonstration library serving Fredericksburg and surrounding counties.
Trustees of Fredericksburg’s Wallace Library, established in 1908, realized that the small city library could not adequately serve the area’s growing population. The Wallace trustees considered building a new library on Washington Avenue but instead chose the vacant Lafayette Elementary School building at 1201 Caroline Street.
The new library—the proud offspring of Fredericksburg’s Wallace Library—was dedicated on July 18, 1969. “I predict you will wonder from this day forward how you ever got along without the services we are starting here today,” said State Librarian Randolph Church—a prophecy that has certainly come true, as the regional system continues to grow and add services.
In 1969, however, the regional system had only the Fredericksburg library to serve customers in the member counties. To fill the gap, bookmobiles took the library on the road to even the most rural communities.
It was not long before branch libraries started to spring up—1972 in Colonial Beach (now Cooper), 1978 in North Stafford (Porter), 1981 in Montross, 1983 in Spotsylvania (Snow), 1985 in Hague (Newton), 1994 in Spotsylvania (Salem Church), 2010 in Stafford (England Run—now Howell), and 2018 in Spotsylvania (Towne Centre) and Stafford’s Fried Center. And, in the bookmobile tradition, satellite locations now reside in rural Spotsylvania at the Belmont Community Center and Partlow Ruritan Club.
For many years, Fredericksburg’s Headquarters Library was the center of activities. In 2001, it became the site of the system’s first computer lab, thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Friends of the Library inaugurated annual book sales that were initially held outdoors in a paved area in front of the Caroline Street building. The popular summer Music on the Steps program is still funded by the Friends of the Library with book sale proceeds.
The Virginiana Room has always been an asset for the library system. Virginiana materials were one of the strengths of the Wallace Library, and the collection has greatly expanded over the years. Now housed in expanded quarters on the ground floor of Fredericksburg Branch, the Virginiana Room draws researchers from near and far. It has microfilm of Fredericksburg newspapers back to 1788, and a complete index of obituaries from those papers, not to mention books, maps, and city directories.
The room is an important stop for members of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation’s Marker Committee as they study the history of Fredericksburg homes and use the newspaper microfilm collection to tell the story of the people who lived there. Copies of the completed Marker reports are available in the Virginiana Room.
Reflecting on the library’s continued growth, Library Director Martha Hutzel said, “For 50 years, Central Rappahannock Regional Library has served the community’s education, information, and technology access needs. We have enjoyed incredible community support from our localities, and we are planning for the future of library service as we strive to meet our goal of lifelong learning for everyone in our community.”
Nancy Moore is on the board of Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. and serves as Virginiana Manager at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.