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History of Handley

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Laura Christiansen, public relations and development officer at Handley Regional Library, left, and Trish Ridgeway, library director, look over a proof of a book the library plans to publish in August about the history of the library. β€” Dennis Grundman/Daily

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The cover of β€œThe First One Hundred Years,” by the Handley Regional Library, is shown. β€” Courtesy photo

Winchester library to publish story of its first 100 years

By Meghan Marville -- Daily Correspondent

WINCHESTER -- On Aug. 10, 1920, the world's master climber, "Human Fly" Harry H. Gardiner, scaled to the highest point of Handley Regional Library in Winchester without the aid of mechanical devices.

This is just one story included in a book the library plans to publish this August in celebration of its centennial.

The idea for the book began in 2007 when the library board formed a committee to plan events for its upcoming centennial celebrations. Because the library has such a rich resource in its own archives, the foundation for the book was easy.

Upon his death in 1895, Judge John Handley of Scranton, Pa., left the sum of $250,000 to be used to "open a Public Library for the free use of the people of the city of Winchester forever," according to the library's website.

Unfortunately, due to a myriad of unexpected problems, the library didn't make its debut until August of 1913. In accordance with the principles of Murphy's Law, anything that could go wrong, did.

In the years following his death, there were a barrage of lawsuits targeted at tying up the money. Handley's longtime home, the City of Scranton, contested the will, and people rushed in claiming to be descendants of Handley. Some of the money was tied up in properties that weren't immediately sold, and there were lawsuits over who would control the money.

After Virginia granted a clear title, a library board of trustees was formed along with a new list of problems to argue over -- like where to build the library. Once built, the building sat empty for three years because there wasn't enough money for staff or books. This was to be Winchester's first public library but no one really knew how to get it started.

In the library's 100 years, there have only been six directors.

The first librarian, C. Vernon Eddy, began work in January of 1913 and consulted with the Free Library of Philadelphia to get everything in order for the eventual August opening. Eddy served as librarian (now called director) from the opening in 1913 through 1959.

"Handley and Eddy made the library system what it is today," said Trish Ridgeway, who has been Handley's director for 18 years.

But it's the people who contributed to the library throughout the years that make the story so interesting.

According to library lore, in 1970 Handley staff began the onorous task of restoring the library's Dewey Decimal System, replacing a filing system which had divided books into 161 categories. They were able to do that when the library's third director, who had devised the other system, retired.

"No one changed the card catalog to tell where the books had been moved -- staff and public had to guess into what category a book would fall," Ridgeway wrote by email, quoting an excerpt from the book. "[The third director] didn't spend much time training staff in the new system. It was a great system for browsing, but as you might imagine, there were many complaints from staff and public when they wanted to find a particular book."

Many people have come forward with stories, newspaper clippings and pieces of their own pasts to contribute to the library's book.

Library executive assistant, Pat Ritchie, has been weaving these stories together chronologically but the library is still accepting any printed information, news clippings, images or oral memories that people have to offer.

Fortunately, word of the book is getting around.

"We received an inquiry from Newell F. Wagoner of Boonville, N.Y., asking if we wanted photographs of the construction of Handley Library," Ridgeway wrote. "We were, of course, very interested. His father, John H. Wagoner, had some connection to the construction of the library in 1908."

Board member and professional editor Bob Grogg is the chair of the book committee, and graphic artist John Burns volunteered his services to design the book and its accompanying promotional materials.

In addition to illustrating a rich local history, the book will highlight some of the unsung heroes who over the years have made extraordinary efforts toward the library's success from behind the scenes. One such is Margaret La Follette -- a former acting director for five years -- or fourth director Charles Dick, who is described by Ridgeway as "the saint of the renovation, we couldn't have done it without him."

So far there are about 60 pre-orders and a few sponsorships totaling $7,000. The feedback has been positive, but a goal of $17,000 must be reached in presales and sponsorships by August in order for the library to get the book out the door and onto shelves.

That's how much it will cost to produce the book, and sale proceeds will go toward community projects, such as the library's Children's Reading Garden, as well as a new sign for the Bowman Library in Stephens City.

For details on how to experience the journey of the Handley Regional Library again or for the first time visit library branches or go online to www.handleyregional.org. The deadline for sponsorships is June 1.

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