Virginiana Stories

By Dan Enos

The Virginiana Room, also known as VR, is located on the lower level of the Fredericksburg Branch on Caroline Street. It is a bright and comfortable space where researchers, local and regional history buffs, genealogists, and plain old curious browsers can access books, maps, local government documents & publications, family records, and a few hundred years of newspapers on microfilm. The people who use the collection are often compiling a family history, writing a book, or completing an assignment for school. But the VR has proven useful in many other ways for people who find creative uses for the collection.

Visitors may spend hours scrolling through decades’ worth of microfilm, scanning The Free Lance-Star and other local newspapers in search of everything from obituaries to historical news articles. Some just want to see what was on the front pages on the days they were born. Almost everyone who delves into the old papers gets sidetracked as history scrolls past their eyes in the form of articles and advertisements that bring the day-to-day events of the past to life, the black-and-white images on the computer screen translating into Technicolor memories. Some researchers never do locate what they set out looking for, but nevertheless, find their exploration of the past a fun and worthwhile way to spend an afternoon.   

One of the most popular subsets of books in the VR is our collection on local hauntings and ghost tales. We also feature a healthy selection of books on gardeningnatural history, and local art and artists. The collection also houses some unexpected treasures. Any leisurely look through the shelves will almost certainly lead to a unique find, such as Harriet Stryker-Rodda’s booklet, Understanding Colonial Handwriting, sure to come in handy to anyone trying to decipher old documents, or Shut That Door, Harry! by Donnie Johnston, which chronicles the quirky characters who gathered at a Cordova country store in Culpeper County, owned by a blind storekeeper during the 1950s and 1960s. Many local authors are featured as well, including the late Paula S. Felder, an authority on colonial Fredericksburg history, and Pat Ivey, author of EMT: Beyond the Lights and Sirens, an account of her experiences as a volunteer medical technician in Lake of the Woods.

The VR houses many documents and files concerning local businesses, churches, organizations, and schools. We also house an extensive collection of local high school yearbooks. It is likely that if you grew up anywhere near Fredericksburg, the memories of your best years live on in our stacks—football triumphs, debate club portraits, braces-brightened prom smiles and all.

In Fredericksburg and the surrounding counties, the word “history” reflexively brings to mind the exalted reputation of George Washington. Just as often, it is weighted by the horrors of local Civil War events. And, if that’s your cup of tea, the VR has plenty of resources for you, so come on down. But if you want to delve into other, perhaps more personal or obscure facets, of local history, we can help. Like those who get lost among the pages of microfilm newspapers, you may not find exactly what you are after, but it would be difficult to dig through our stuff and not turn up something worthwhile and fun. Even if it is just a gawky prom photo from 1982. 

Dan Enos is a volunteer in the Virginiana Room.