- By Barbara Pratt Willis
The will of Captain C. Wistar Wallace, who died May 20, 1907, left $15,000 to the City of Fredericksburg for the purpose of establishing a public library (See November 1985 Fredericksburg/TidelandTimes Magazine.) The will stipulated how the money was to be used and provided for certain conditions to be met.
At a Council meeting on July 18, 1907, the bequest of Captain Wallace was accepted. The Mayor appointed the following citizens to serve as the first Trustees: St. George Fitzhugh, S. J. Quinn, A. T. Embrey, J. W. Roseboro, James Knox, E. D. Cole, A. P. Rowe, B. P. Willis, and James Lowery.
The minutes of the Wallace Library Trustees have been preserved. At the first meeting on March 19, 1908, St. George Fitzhugh was elected chairman and S. J. Quinn was elected secretary.
Its first order of business was the new library building authorized by Council and the General Assembly to be located on the Courthouse lot (on the corner of Princess Anne and George Streets) in such a way so not to obstruct the view of the Courthouse building. The Trustees voted that the plan of Mr. George Wroten, architect and contractor, be accepted at the cost of $5,000 and this recommendation was sent to Council. The only change made to the original plan was that the library building by wired for electricity.
The trustees did not meet again until a year later on March 8, 1909, when the chairman announced that the library building was completed, equipped, paid for and insured. Two new trustees were announced: W. A. Lane and Colonel E. D. Cole who replaced J. W. Roseboro.
Captain Wallace's will stipulated that no more than $5,000 was to be used for a building and the rest of the money was to be used to purchase books. The will stated that the books were to be selected by a board to be chosen by the presidents of the University of Virginia, Washington & Lee University, Richmond College, and Randolph-Macon College. The trustees directed that a letter be written to the college presidents asking that $5,000 be used to purchase books initially and the remaining $5,000 be invested for book purchases at a later date.
At the May 19, 1909 meeting, the chairman, Mr. Fitzhugh, notified the trustees that the presidents of the universities and colleges had replied to the letter and had appointed a book purchase committee consisting of Chairman, John S. Patton, Librarian of the University of Virginia; R. E. Blackwell of Randolph-Macon College; Dr. H. R. McIlwaine, State Librarian; and Professor J. A. Chandler of Richmond College.
The trustees discussed how to make use of the existing books owned by the Fredericksburg Library Association (maintained by a voluntary group of ladies) before any books were purchased. They respectfully recommended to the ladies of the Fredericksburg Library Association that they turn over to the Wallace Library their books, setting their "terms and conditions."
A reply from the ladies was read at the next meeting of the trustees a month later. Miss Vivian Conway as chairman of the executive committee wrote that the Fredericksburg Library Association had been in existence for fourteen years and was not interested in consolidation with the Wallace Library.
The gentlemen of the Wallace Library were upset and wrote a letter to the ladies of the Fredericksburg Library, with a copy being sent to the two local newspapers. The trustees explained that they had no desire to consolidate and that the use of their books was to be on terms satisfactory to the ladies. It was pointed out the refusal to lend the thousands of books in the association's library would necessitate the Wallace Library's buying duplicate books, and the two libraries would be located within thirty yards of each other. (The Fredericksburg Library had a room in the Courthouse.) The trustees said refusal to lend the books "is most deplorable and most detrimental to the best interests of the City."
Receiving no reply to their letter, the trustees decided to proceed with their work. The book selection committee submitted its list at the April 5, 1910 meeting of the Wallace Library Board. Among suggested titles were the works of Southern writers Thomas Nelson Page, Mary Johnston, Ellen Glasgow, Joel Chandler Harris and Frances Hopkinson Smith. The list also included the fields of invention and experiment, philosophy, religion, psychology, fine arts and letters. A juvenile list was provided by the State Library. The 2,000 new books were purchased from Mr. J. Willard Adams, local book merchant, for $2,200.02.
A private library containing 1,500 to 2,000 volumes belonging to Mr. Charles B. Holladay of Wilmington, Delaware was purchased for $600. The board accepted ten bound volumes of the Fredericksburg Ledger 1865-1875, donated by Mrs. Virginia Bradshaw, and 400 magazines donated by Mrs. William Anderson. (We have found no record as to the eventual fate of the books of the ladies' Fredericksburg Library.)
The library was to be open every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and every Thursday from 3 p. m. to 6 p.m. and from 7 p. m. to 10 p. m. A salary for the librarian was set at $300 per year.
Miss Sally Gravatt was elected librarian over six other applicants for the job. Miss Gravatt was the daughter of Fredericksburg coach maker George Gravatt, whose brick house years later was relocated from Princess Anne Street to Charlotte Street behind the Chimneys restaurant, in order to make way for the new post office. Miss Gravatt held the position of librarian for thirty-seven years until her death on July 20, 1946, at age 86. Finally, the Wallace Library Board reported the cataloging of books completed, and the new library opened on Monday, December 5, 1910.