History of Dumbarton Library, Part 4: What’s in a Name?

29 Jun
Dumbarton Grange courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, VCU Libraries

Dumbarton Grange. Photo courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, VCU Libraries

The name of our new library, Libbie Mill Library, brings together two local street names. Dumbarton Library, too, seems to be named for a street, but there is a little more to it than that. From the 1830s, the land in the vicinity of current-day Dumbarton Road and Staples Mill Road was known for the grist- and saw-mill operations there, run by the Staples family. When Francis Staples died, the large operation was divided up and offered for sale. Ads for the 1859 land sale reveal other operations such as ice houses for collecting and selling ice from the mill pond, a blacksmith shop, and a distillery. The ad described the house itself as “a comfortable dwelling”*  Another selling point: the land had access to the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad, the most modern way to move goods and people. People continued to call the area Staples Plantation or Staples Mill until the late 1860s, when Alfred Courtney purchased some of the land. Courtney named the portion of the land that he bought Dumbarton Grange, after a family property in Scotland. This area came to be called simply Dumbarton. For instance, another real estate sale ad, from 1898, describes the sale of a “suburban store and residence property at Dumbarton.” The ad noted it was a “convenient location” at which “six trains stop daily.”** After the Courtneys, Emmett Shepard bought the Dumbarton Grange property; upon his 1910 death it went to his wife, Rebecca Priscilla Bradley. In 1913, Bradley married noted author James Branch Cabell. Cabell did much of his writing at their Dumbarton Grange home. The Cabells moved to Monument Avenue in 1925, and the property was divided and sold in 1929, a time when the area began the transformation from farms to suburbs. Just as Staples Mill Road took its name from its notable destination, so are Dumbarton Road and Dumbarton Area Library named for the farm and community called Dumbarton.

Read more about James Branch Cabell here.

*Daily Dispatch, September 15, 1859.

**Daily Dispatch, December 11, 1898

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