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Glen Allen Branch Library: An Expanded Definition of Library

9 Nov




As Henrico Libraries turn 50 this year, here at Glen Allen Branch Library we’re celebrating our community’s past and our place in it. Thanks to the Friends of Glen Allen Library, prints of scenes from old Glen Allen have been newly framed and hung. We’ll celebrate their arrival at an event on Saturday, November 18 at 2:00 p.m. That afternoon, artist Edith Schermerhorn will make brief remarks about her prints, and local history expert Bob Lehr will speak about the Glen Allen community. Refreshments will follow, provided by the Friends of Glen Allen Library.

While the Glen Allen community and its beloved school have created a sense of place for generations, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the population in this part of the county warranted a public library. An early advocate for a public library branch in the northwest section of the county was Brookland District supervisor Richard Glover; he remained a strong supporter of and good friend to Henrico Libraries until his death earlier this year. Henrico voters indicated their approval for a new building project when they voted for a bond referendum in 1989. Construction of the 12,000 square foot building began in the last half of 1994 and was completed the next year. The Richmond Times-Dispatch described the August 7, 1995, opening this way: “More than 400 people joined about 25,000 books last week for the dedication ceremony and grand opening of the Glen Allen Library….The library, which is organized around a high central space, accommodates print and electric media. A public access computer center will feature computer classes and electronic research.”(1) As Supervisor Glover pointed out in remarks about the library in 1996, “Literacy, of course, no longer means just reading and writing. It also encompasses computer proficiency and an understanding of automated systems. Glen Allen Library was designed with this expanded definition of literacy in mind.”(2)

After just 10 years, rapid growth in the area indicated the need for a larger library and so plans to renovate were included in a 2005 bond referendum which voters again passed. PSA-Dewberry designed the current building and doubled the size to 25,000 square feet. The refurbished building maintained the craftsman-style details of the smaller building; it reopened in October 2010. During the expansion, many energy saving and environmentally friendly changes were incorporated, earning the library Silver Certification in the U.S. Green Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. We’re proud that Glen Allen Library is Henrico County’s first general government facility that attained a LEED designation.

Whether old building or new, Glen Allen Library has always had interesting features beyond the book, movie, and magazine collections. The 1995 building had Henrico Library’s first computer lab with 10 personal computer running early Microsoft programs, and with Encarta and World Book encyclopedias available in CD-ROM format. To use the “Computers 4U” lab, patrons needed to present their library card and “demonstrate a knowledge of microcomputers or complete an orientation given by a staff member.”(3) The National Association of Counties presented Henrico Libraries with an Achievement Award for the innovation shown in making computers available to its citizens.

An unusual feature of Glen Allen Branch that was retained after the expansion is our time capsule, which you can find at the front of the library between the courtyard gate and the entrance. We look forward to opening it on August 7, 2045! You can learn more about it – spoiler alert: the contents are listed! – on this page. Two special features of the new building are our gas fireplace, which creates a cozy feel to a sizable building, and the Founding Fathers collection. Inspired by Supervisor Glover, the Founding Fathers section presents multimedia items for all reading levels on the founding of the United States. The collection ranges from picture books to works such as The Papers of Thomas Jefferson which are used by researchers. A reproduction of John Trumball’s 1819 painting “The Declaration of Independence” demarcates the section housing the Founding Fathers collection.

Whether you’re looking back to the founding of the country ,or deeper back in time; whether you’re thinking about the real 2045 future when we’ll open a time capsule, or a speculative future depicted by your favorite novelist, Glen Allen Library’s been meeting your research and recreational needs with media and the most modern electronic formats for 22 years.



(1) Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Newest Library Opens,” August 16, 1995.

(2) Glover, Richard, “Remarks … Time Capsule Placement Ceremony.” 1996 (typescript in library collection)

(3) Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Library Branch Computer Lab is Open for You,” May 8, 1996).

History of Dumbarton Area Library, Part 7: Farewell

8 Oct

Through its 39 years of service, Dumbarton Area Library has been an active, beloved hub of its region. We improved it whenever we could, whether with fresh paint, an upgrade to the electricity to support computers, or with the furniture donated in memory of library board member M. O. “Moe” Roache, Jr., in 2003. Mr. Roache was instrumental in the establishment of Dumbarton Library. Contemporary needs demand a contemporary building, so as they had in 1973, in 2005 Henrico County citizens showed their enthusiastic support of their public library system by passing a bond referendum to raise money for public library improvements. A new area library to replace Dumbarton was part of this long-term plan.

Library Board member M.O. Roache

Library Board member M.O. Roache, 1975

As it had been in the 1970s, choosing a site was a challenging process, but the offer to be part of the Libbie Mill development off Staples Mill and Bethlehem Roads was too good to pass up. Gumenick Properties, the project developer, donated a 3-acre site as part of an agreement with Henrico County. BCWH Architects of Richmond and Tappé Architects of Boston designed the new Libbie Mill Library building. County officials will seek LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification status for it. The LEED program, operated by the U.S. Green Building Council, recognizes facilities that are environmentally friendly.

Libbie Mill Library has many features citizens clamor for: collaborative work spaces, places to plug in their laptops and other devices, study rooms, and spacious, dedicated rooms for teen and children’s materials. We also know people will enjoy the variety of quiet places to sit and read — especially the chairs with views of the Libbie Mill Lake! Join us on October 29th at 6:00 p.m. to celebrate the grand opening of Libbie Mill Library, the latest in the chain of libraries to serve the people of north Henrico.


This series anticipates the opening of north Henrico’s new Libbie Mill Area Library.

Full bibliography for this series, here

History of Dumbarton Library, Part 6: A Miscellany

17 Sep

This month, we pause in the narrative of Dumbarton Library’s history for a few trivia tidbits. For instance, how many of these items do you remember checking out?

Items Henrico County Public Library has loaned:

  • Framed art prints
  • LPs (records)
  • Polaroid cameras
  • VHS and Beta tapes
  • Book and cassette tape kits
  • Filmstrips
  • Compact discs (CDs), beginning in about 1988
Notice LP records at right in this 1977 photo of the children's room

Notice LP records at right in this 1979 photo of the children’s room

Henrico Libraries keep up with technologies of the times; some notable examples follow:

Videos, 1981

Videos, 1981

HCPL Technologies Timeline

  • 1976 Barcode-based electronic circulation system from National Cash Register acquired; “first of its kind for a public library in the eastern United States, a library spokesman said yesterday.”* This system was used at Tuckahoe Area Library, only.
  • 1978 Video tapes for checking out added
  • 1983 Microfilm catalog introduced
  • 1983 Apple II computers installed for public use; patrons paid $1.00 for every 12 minutes of computer time
  • c. 1985 Computer-automated library system called LIONS for checking out books
  • c. 1996 Library website launched
  • 1998 Free internet and office software
  • 1999 Current online catalog and integrated library system purchased
  • c. 2000 First ebooks available (mostly nonfiction titles)
  • 2011 Began purchasing popular title ebooks downloadable through OverDrive
Early library card

Early library card

Computer users, 1990s

Librarian helps computer users, 1990s

First Four Henrico Libraries

  • Fairfield (1968)
  • Lakeside (1968)
  • Tuckahoe (1968)
  • Sandston (established as library for Sandston Women’s Club, 1923; donated to Henrico County, 1967)
First Sandston Library, 1980

First Sandston Library, 1980

“Artifacts” from Opening Dumbarton Area Library

floor plan


ribbon (from January 1977 Dedication?)

Two 1980s Tidbits

A newspaper story from July 1981 reports on a power outage after a thunderstorm — not an uncommon problem. This time, though, power was out for two and a half days, due to some confusion as to whether the power company — VEPCO, as it was at the time — or the County needed to fix the problem. During the outage, then as today, library books returned to Dumbarton couldn’t be checked in with the electronic system and so over 3,000 books piled up. Jokes about the library not paying its electric bill were taken in stride.

Another event that closed Dumbarton for a couple of days was re-carpeting in 1987. Rather than work around the shelves, volunteers — including “six to eight minimum-security work-release inmates”** moved about 80,000 books.

For the move to Libbie Mill Library, professionals will be employed.

This series anticipates the opening of north Henrico’s new Libbie Mill Area Library on October 30, 2015.

Full bibliography for this series, here

*Richmond Times-Dispatch, [untitled], May 29, 1976.

** Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Book-Moving Project Set at Henrico Library,” March 20, 1987.

History of Dumbarton Library: Part 5, the Libbie Mill Area

21 Aug

Developer Gumenick Properties named its project at Staples Mill and Bethlehem Roads “Libbie Mill” to emphasize the way the development links together Libbie Avenue and Staples Mill Road. Libbie Avenue, in turn, took its name from Libbie Freeman Thompson, wife of a local businessman. Staples Mill Road is named for the grist mill belonging to the Staples family; it stood in the vicinity of present-day Dickens Road and Staples Mill Road in the 19th century. The fourth boundary of the site is a creek named Jordan’s Branch.

Image from 1880, when A.R. Courtney owned the Staples property, from “Richmond Then and Now” blog

One hundred years ago north Henrico was rural — mostly farms and woods. It was so open, the well-to-do could enjoy a “drag hunt” — horseback riding with dogs across country, but following a  scent, not chasing a fox. One drag hunt held in 1914 had “no falls to mar the sport,” and included checkpoints at places with familiar names: Lakeside, Staples’s Mill [sic], Dumbarton, and Libbie Avenue.* As the 20th century progressed, the railroad and horses became less common ways to get around and paved roads and cars began to dominate. As formerly rural areas became more accessible to city dwellers, developers subdivided old farms and put up homes and, eventually, apartments.

Long-time residents of the area remember the property that’s now Libbie Mill as home to the Suburban Apartments from the 1950s until 2002. A church was built there, too. The congregants of Trinity Baptist worshiped there from 1951 until 1980. In 1980, the building became the property to the First Mennonite Church of Richmond, which met there until 2004.

Although the Suburban Apartments complex was emptied in the early 2000s, and demolition was complete in 2006, the recession slowed development. Development kicked into high gear with last year’s opening of Southern Season, and the filling of office spaces. Henrico County Public Library expects to bid farewell to Dumbarton Area Library on October 17 and welcome patrons to the new Libbie Mill Area Library on October 29, 2015.

*Richmond Times Dispatch, March 8, 1914, p. 3.

This series anticipates the opening of north Henrico’s new Libbie Mill Area Library in October 2015.

Full bibliography for this series, here

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

History of Dumbarton Library, Part 3: Changing Collections, Changing Technology

15 May

In 1977, Dumbarton’s first full year of operation, Henrico Library patrons checked out books and magazines, of course — and also LP records, audio cassette tapes, and even art prints! A constant theme in public library services is keeping up with changing technologies. Accordingly, in 1978, Henrico Libraries began circulating video tapes; and in 1983 Apple II computers were installed for public use. Patrons paid $1.00 for every 12 minutes of computer time.

“The computer is being used steadily” at Dumbarton, said Mrs. Temple. “There are a lot more knowledgeable people out there than we expected. It’s not at all true that the school kids are the only ones who know how to use the computers.”*

We adopted other emerging technologies, seemingly more rapidly, throughout the next thirty years. Henrico County Libraries never used a card catalog; the first catalog was a list of titles in a set of three bound, printed lists. A contemporary article touted this seemingly complicated book catalog as modern — since a computer generated the lists — and as a space-saver, taking up less room than drawers and drawers of card catalog files. This bound catalog was replaced by a catalog on microfilm in 1983. We acquired an early computer catalog system in 1985, and the current “integrated library system,” including online catalog, dates to 1999. Henrico Library’s first website was launched in fiscal year 1996-97. The end of the 1990s saw us begin to offer Microsoft Office software as well as Internet access: this landmark shows up in the fiscal year 1998-99 annual report.

Returning to the subject of items patrons checked out, Henrico Libraries began circulating CDs in the late 1980s, and DVD movies in fiscal year 2003-04. The annual report noted, “In the first year of this shift to digital format, the library’s collection of DVD’s swelled to more than 2,500 titles, including numerous titles produced in-house by Public Relations & Media Services.”**  Today, Henrico Libraries own over 30,000 DVDs. In 2011, we added downloadable ebooks for library members to read on their smart phones, tablets, etc. This collection replaced a previous collection of electronic books that could be read only on a personal computer. Our commitment to keeping up with the technologies library members use remains a cornerstone of our service.

*“New Tools Joining Books at Libraries” Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 31, 1983

**Henrico County Annual Report, 2003-2004

This series anticipates the opening of north Henrico’s new Libbie Mill Area Library in November 2015.

Full bibliography for this series, here

History of Dumbarton Library, Part 2: Dumbarton Area Library Opens

12 May

Dumbarton School, 1936. Photo courtesy of Library of Virginia, School Buildings Service Collection SB 01158

As Henrico County moved forward on its late 1960s plans to establish a library system, finding an appropriate spot for a large library for the Northside proved controversial. Disagreements revolved around the former Dumbarton Elementary School, located on Staples Mill Rd. and Penick Rd. A modern Dumbarton Elementary opened in September 1971. The old building wasn’t vacant, however: the new Hermitage High School building had its opening delayed because of a plumbers’ strike, so for at least one semester in 1971, high school students used the old elementary school.  Some thought that renovating the former elementary school for use as a public library would be cost effective and that the location was a good one. But at least one board of supervisors member thought Staples Mill much too busy a road for a library, and that realizing the property’s commercial value would be more worthwhile. In the end, the plan to use the property for the library went forth. County officials declared the old part of the school unsafe and razed it in June 1973; the part closest to Penick Rd., built in 1956 — the “cafetorium” — remained and was incorporated into the new library as the Children’s Room.


1956 Dumbarton Elementary School

Copy of an older photo donated to Dumbarton Library. Cafetorium at left.

Dumbarton Area Library opened for business on November 26, 1976; it was 22,500 square feet and had one meeting room that could hold 120 people. The children’s room, at 2,408 square feet, was just bigger than all of the Lakeside Library. Ben R. Johns, Jr., AIA, was the architect. The first two days saw 110 people register for new library cards. At the January 8, 1977, dedication ceremony for Dumbarton Library, Virginia Secretary of Education Robert R. Ramsey, Jr., praised the new facility for supporting an American “need to know.” Furthermore, Henrico libraries recognized our “role and potential as a center of continuing education. . . ” and so Dumbarton would be “a role model of a progressive, modern library. . . .” Ramsey called the reuse of the old Dumbarton School “the rebirth of the soul in a new body.”*

This series anticipates the opening of north Henrico’s new Libbie Mill Area Library in November 2015.

Full bibliography for this series, here

*Ramsey, Jr., Robert R. “The Crowning Glory.” 1977. (typescript remarks from Dumbarton Area Library Dedication Day, library collection).