By Phil James
Where in the world is the Crozet Library?
What a silly question! Why, everyone knows it’s bursting at its seams inside the former train depot alongside the railroad tracks in downtown Crozet. And, besides, the question on everyone’s mind today is, “Where is the Crozet Library going?”
An accounting of where the library has been, though, reads like an intimate history of the village itself.
A record of Crozet’s first library has been preserved by the Woman’s Club of Crozet, though the library’s genesis pre-dates the establishment even of that stalwart group. It is clearly evident that, through the years, it was the concerned women of the area who persisted in maintaining such a literary advantage for their town.
In 1907, Miss Dorothy Earp of nearby Yancey Mills was given a large variety of books from influential friends in Philadelphia who hoped Miss Earp might find them useful in her life’s work of caring for patients in her home. Being overwhelmed with the quantity of books received, she encouraged the assistance of a teenage girl in her care to help set up a lending library in Crozet.
One of Crozet’s first business men, “James M. Ellison: Dealer in Dry Goods, Notions, Groceries, & Shoes,” had a feed shop near his mercantile on The Square. Ellison rented a storage room adjoining the shop to Miss Earp for two dollars a month.
“Such a funny, forlorn little old room,” recalled Dorothy Earp, “with one window in the front and one in the back, with rough wooden boards by way of shutters, and with an un-planed and very dirty floor.”
The floor was scrubbed and matting was tacked down over it. Unpainted boards were installed as book shelves. The windows, washed clean, were adorned with white ruffled curtains. The space was outfitted with a “little pig” stove for warmth. A desk and three chairs were complemented by a magazine table “loaned by Mrs. Charley Wayland.”
Though the initial plan had been to loan the books free-of-charge, it was decided that a membership fee of 25 cents a year be levied “if you could pay it,” the reasoning being that “things paid for were of more value than those obtained for nothing.” Dorothy Earp opened The Library of Crozet two days per week, and all patrons were welcomed warmly by Miss Dorothy and her young protégé. Tea and home-baked goods were served to each visitor.
The plainly appointed little room on The Square soon became a social center for the village. More volunteer hosts were enlisted and the library’s hours were increased. Its Membership Book stated: “The library is open every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday afternoon, from 4:30 until 6.” On Tuesdays, Miss Dorothy Earp was on hand. The Wednesday host was Mrs. Clark; Friday, Mrs. Sharrard; and Saturday’s patrons were welcomed by Mrs. Robert Wayland.
After a few years, readership declined as the hundred-or-so volumes in the library by then had been read by most, and no funds were available to purchase new books. It was decided to move the library’s collection of books to the Crozet High School (then on Saint George Avenue) where some of its volumes helped to form the nucleus of the school library. Annual dues were increased to 50 cents, new books were purchased, and additional helpers came onboard to serve.
By 1915, general interest again had waned, and the books languished in a locked case at the school. The Crozet Free Library Association was formed with a goal of making the library’s books available to all without charge. To qualify as a free library, the organization worked to raise the minimum $25 per year needed for the purchase of new books. In November 1918, Crozet’s first Free Library was founded.
John T. O’Neill offered the library free rent for a room next to his store building north of the depot, and a reading room was established there. The library grew and began a series of moves into various spaces around the village. From O’Neill’s location it moved into a room over the Bank of Crozet on Main Street. From there, it went down the street to the Methodist Church until, in 1923, its collection of 524 books lovingly was taken over by the Woman’s Club of Crozet. In 1928, the volumes were moved into their new clubhouse on the corner of Carter Street and Jarmans Gap Road.
At the Woman’s Club location, an active and dedicated Library Committee contributed mightily to the growth and vitality of the library. By 1930, over 2600 volumes graced the bookshelves, and, in 1932, the “Dewey system of classification” was adopted.
During the height of the rigors on the home front while World War II raged, the library became inactive. Following the war’s end, it was reopened, and a financial gift by the Crozet Lions Club helped assure the library’s continued operation. Near the end of that decade, Crozet’s own library boasted nearly 3,000 titles.
The Woman’s Club of Crozet was instrumental in securing for Albemarle County its first Bookmobile during the latter 1940s. This was a fortuitous investment because, for a season, the bookmobile was the only library service available to the citizens of Crozet.
By 1963, Crozet’s library needs had been served by the traveling bookmobile for ten years. The activism of a citizens’ committee representing 20 Crozet organizations led to the establishment of the Crozet Branch of the McIntire Public Library. In the spring of ’64, the new Branch Library found quarters across the road from the train station in the former Chesley A. Haden & Co. office building.
Five years later, the Boy Scouts and others transported the library’s inventory back to The Square, this time into the Crozet Hardware building. Interestingly, that building had been erected on the site of Dorothy Earp’s first library endeavor.
When the hardware store returned to its previous location in the late 1970s, the library was forced to move back across the tracks yet again. Having grown in volumes-shelved and patrons-served, the library found very cramped quarters at a former location: the previous site of O’Neill’s Store where the Crozet Free Library had opened its first reading room. Because of the difficulties created by downsizing and storage, the library’s hours of operation—and corresponding visitor numbers—were greatly curtailed. The library languished in this state of limbo until 1984, when the philanthropic Perry Foundation rescued and renovated Crozet’s abandoned C&O train station for the library’s use.
For more than a quarter-century, Crozet has been served ably by a dedicated library staff in one of the town’s most recognizable and historic structures. Has Crozet and western Albemarle County grown during that period? Like gangbusters! To continue to serve efficiently one of the fastest growing areas in the county, Herculean demands have been placed on the staff in one of Jefferson-Madison Regional Library’s busiest branches. A dearth of parking has added to the woes of visitors and employees alike.
It is now past time for the venerable Chesapeake and Ohio Railway depot to enter yet another realm of service to the Crozet community. The Crozet Library staff and the citizens of this region require a much larger and more technologically modern library facility. The hopes of securing public monies to meet this pressing need are dwindling.
Might the women who strived so diligently to keep the Crozet Library vital through our earlier days of war and economic peril have seen this present day approaching? Perhaps there was among them a mother with the foresight to sew some deep pockets into her child’s clothing just for such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as this one. The blank pages of that future chapter of Crozet’s library await a writer.
Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County, Virginia. You may respond to him through his website www.SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987.
Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003-2010 Phil James