Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Visits to Two of Virginia's Seven Carnegie Libraries

Friends: Lucky for me the tourist office in Manassas was open Sunday morning. If it hadn't been, it is unlikely I would have been able to track down the site of its torn down Carnegie library. Not even the woman on duty in the tourist office knew where it was or even that there had been a Carnegie in Manassas. She had to go to the Internet to find out.

It was Wikipedia to the rescue. It lists the 1,689 Carnegie libraries scattered around the US, state by state, most of them built nearly one hundred years ago. Virginia has seven. The one in Manassas had been an academic library built for the now defunct Manassas Industrial School, a school for "coloured youth," founded by a former slave, Jeannie Dean, in 1894. The school lasted until 1966. It was such a significant institution that Dean was honored by FDR at the White House, and its location is now part of the Manassas Museum System. None of its four buildings still stand. They are only remembered by concrete ridges forming the outlines of their foundations. The largest by far was the Carnegie building, which housed not only a library, but classrooms as well.

Manassas is better known for two significant Civil War battles. I camped the night before in a thick pine forest bordering the National Park at the battlefield. It was the second time in the past few months that I have defied the lingering spirits of the war dead, camping where thousands met their deaths in horrific fighting. But just as at Gallipoli in Turkey I slept without interruption or without scarred dreams, just as I do when the wild camping isn't so good and I resort to camping in a cemetery.

Manassas is also home to George Mason University, a sometimes competitor in the NCAA basketball tournament, including this year where they beat Villanova in the opening round of the East regional. The lady at the tourist office couldn't tell me who George Mason was, so it was back to Wikipedia. It revealed he lived from 1715 to 1792. "Ah, so he was a Patriot," she said, rather than a Civil War hero.

"I wonder if he signed the Declaration of Independence," I mused, knowing she wouldn't know, nor that we would take the time to search it out at the moment, though thinking I might on another occasion. Then I asked, "Would you know how many signed it, or if any were women?" With this barrage I noticed she slightly backed away and snuck a quick glance around, as if looking for an escape route if need be. She was stuck all alone in the isolated tourist office on a quiet Sunday morning being assaulted by a crazed querier in tights and wearing a helmet asking her questions way beyond her pay grade. She had to be regretting that she had drawn Sunday morning duty this week and wasn't at church.

"I was just in Maryland," I explained, "and the county of the capital, Annapolis, is named for a woman, Ann Arundell, the wife of an early settler. The county carries both her first and last name to emphasize its named for a woman. I don't ever recall seeing that before. It made me wonder if there were other counties named for women in Maryland, or elsewhere, but haven't had the time to look it up. Do you know if there are any in Virginia?"

"I've heard of Ann Arundell," she said. "But I don't know anything about her. That's interesting. After you leave, I'll do some searching. If you give me your email address, I'll let you know." She seemed to be graciously letting me know it was time for me to leave. I still had a few questions for her, but decided to save them for someone else. I was mostly curious what Manassas might be doing to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War this year. It is a hot topic in the South. As I left she offered me a pen. "Just what I need," I said, "as I lost one yesterday."

I had another interesting search for the only other Carnegie on my route through Virginia the next day in Ashland. I had learned from the woman in Manassas during our Wikipedia search of Virginia Carnegies that it too was an academic library at Randolph-Macon College. Upon arrival at Ashland yesterday morning, I went directly to this college of 1,200 students. I did not have to ask to find its large new library. It was not an expansion of the Carnegie, but an entirely new building. One of the two women at the information desk knew that the Carnegie had been converted into the Administration Building just down the street.

I missed it and ended up at the Welcome Building at the entrance to the campus. No one there knew anything about a Carnegie, but had a book on the history of the school. We perused that. It didn't take long to discover the Carnegie including a photo. It had been renamed Peele Hall and housed the University President. It was a regal two story brick building with a row of five arched windows on the second floor and a pair of pillars out front. It had been fully converted into offices and bore no resemblance to having been a library. A plaque though on the exterior of the building acknowledged it had been a gift of the Carnegie Corporation in 1923.

That does it for my Carnegies in Virginia for this trip, but I know there will be more to search out in Ohio and Indiana in the days to come. In the meantime I have my third capital city to look forward to in these travels, Richmond, after having already visited Annapolis and Washington D.C.

Later, George

1 comment:

scgrits said...

There's Louisa and Caroline in VA, maybe more. Annapolis, in AA County, in Maryland -- all named for women. The original capital was St Mary's City, now in St Mary's Co. There's also Caroline and Queen Anne counties in MD.