Library Visit: The Handley Library in Winchester, VA

The Handley Library in Winchester, VA

I was recently in Winchester, Virginia to attend the 17th International Willa Cather Seminar at Shenandoah University. Cather was born in nearby Gore / Back Creek which is about 12 miles from Winchester. This area was the setting for her last novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl. The conference organizers recommended The Handley Library as a place to visit and of course I heeded their advice.

This gorgeous Beaux Arts building was made possible by Judge John Handley (1835-1895) of Scranton, PA who left $250,000 in his will for a library to be built in Winchester. Apparently he was a regular visitor and loved the area.

The library was designed by architects J. Steward Barney and Henry Otis Chapman of New York. Construction began in 1908 and the library opened to white patrons on August 21, 1913. I’ve come across two final costs of construction, both of which included furnishings: $149,198 and $233,230. Perhaps one of these numbers also includes the cost of books. Either way, it came in under budget. In December 1953 the library was opened to all city residents regardless of “race, color, or creed” (per Kathryn Parker in her book, Images of America: Winchester. Arcadia, 2006).

The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
A view from the side of the glorious portico and dome.
A view of the east side of The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
There is a patio or porch just behind that line of railing which is accessed through the East Reading Room (but I’m not sure if the public has access to it).
The Handley Library photograph of the dome interior
Stepping into this library definitely gives one a feeling that you are now in the temple of knowledge. There are important things to discover here.
West Reading Room at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
A view into the West Reading Room and Periodicals Department. To the left is the Patsy Cline quiet study room.
The Pasty Cline Study Room at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
The Patsy Cline Study Room. Cline grew up in Winchester. I was a Pasty Cline fan long before I’d ever heard of Cather.
The circulation desks at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Other than the computers, you get the feeling that this is exactly what library patrons saw in 1913 when the library opened. But it’s not. I saw some historical photos and the original circulation desk was located in the rotunda.
Celebrating Pride Display at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Celebrating Pride! 🏳️‍🌈
East Reading Room at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
The view of the hallway leading into the East Reading Room. Notice the Library Shop sign on the right. I went in and found my new friend Pat chatting with the shop employee. Pat was a fellow Seminar attendee who recommended A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott which I purchased in the Library Shop for $2, along with some key chains and postcards.
Architectural prints of the library are for sale. Click here to check them out. The one above is a top down view. The library was designed to look like an open book, with the rotunda being the spine and the two halls forming the open halves.
The architectural prints also grace some of the sun screens on the windows in the newer section of the library. I changed this photo to black and white to enhance the contrast.
The Willa Cather Study Room at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Just beyond the Library Shop and before entering the East Reading Room, on the right hand side is the Willa Cather quiet study room. A portrait of her is on the back wall and to the left is her grandparents’ home, Willow Shade.
Sculpture of Willa Cather in the East Reading Room at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
A sculpture of Willa Cather in the East Reading Room.
Mass Market Spinner Racks at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
I’m always drawn to mass market spinner racks. I believe this area is the new addition built in 1979.
The Shenandoah Valley Tapestry at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
The Shenandoah Valley Tapestry took four years to complete and was unveiled on October 20, 2018. It is based on a painting which was based on a book. It features historic buildings from The Valley. [Click here to read about it]
Willow Shade from The Shenandoah Valley Tapestry at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
The building in the top left-hand corner is Willow Shade, Cather’s grandparents’ house and the home in which she lived until she was nine and the family headed to Nebraska.
Enticing young patrons up to the Childrens Department at The Handley Library in Winchster, VA
The library has an elevator but I tend to take the stairs. What a pleasant surprise to see that the library makes great use of the stairwell space — enticing young patrons up to the Children’s Department.
Colorful Door to the Children's Room at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
What kid wouldn’t be excited to get at what’s behind such a door?
The Children's Department help desk at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
As the Willa Cather Seminar came to a close at Shenandoah University, a Children’s Literature Conference was just getting underway. A librarian asked if that’s what I was there for (I still had on my name tag) and we chatted for a bit.
Glass floor above the circulation area at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Glass floors like these were used in larger libraries in the late 19th and early 20th century as a way to get light to lower levels.
Looking down the stairwell at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
A view of the spiral stairwell looking down from the third floor near the dome. If you look through the chandelier, you can see a curved radiator at the bottom. I love such custom attention to detail.
The curved radiator.
Dragon Stained Glass Detail at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Dragon! Stained glass dome detail.
Circulation desks at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Circulation desks. On the ceiling between the desks, you can see the glass featured in a photo above. On the left and right edge of this photo, you can see the steel spiral staircases the went up to the original closed stacks.
Circular metal stairways are always such an adventure!
Glass floor - ceiling detail at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Close up of the glass floor/ceiling in the circulation area.
Glass floor at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Another view of the glass floor / ceiling above the circulation desks. Can you tell I’m crazy about this architectural innovation?
Light detail at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Sconce in the rotunda.
Historic photos in the stairwell at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Here we are back in the stairwell, this time going down to the archives. This attention to people’s interests and whetting their appetite for where they’re heading is such a nice touch.
Charles Vernon Eddy First Library of The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Charles Vernon Eddy (1877-1963) served as the first librarian of The Handley Library, a position he held for 47 years. The current library director is John Huddy.
The Archive at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Entrance to the archive departmen in the lower level.
Sign In! The Archives Department at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Who could forget to sign in with this reminder?
Patsy Cline and Willa Cather at The Handley Library in Winchester, VA
Photos of Patsy Cline and Willa Cather in the archives department.
The Hadley Library in Winchester, VA
A side view of the library from W. Piccadilly Street.

If you’re anywhere near Winchester or driving through, a stop at The Hadley Library will be well worth your time. It is right in the heart of things in Old Town Winchester, just a couple blocks away from the walking mall which is full of great restaurants, shops (including the Winchester Book Gallery), museums, and historic architecture). I started fantasizing about going back for a vacation before I even left.

The Handley Library
100 W. Piccadilly Street
Winchester, VA
Website: https://www.handleyregional.org
Date visited: June 22, 2019



Categories: Library

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4 replies

  1. Great article Chris. Really enjoyed it.

  2. I love a Beaux Arts library! could you post the photograph of the original configuration of the circulation desk? My Beaux Arts Library (a Carnegie) in Covington KY had just such a circulation desk in the middle of the first floor. Its now a public arts center, I am just glad some of it is still in existence. If I ever get back to Winchester I will drop in to the library. As I recall it was a delightful down town area even back in the 90s.

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