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Alexandria Library Celebrates 75th Anniversary as Public Library System

On August 20, 2012 the Alexandria Library will officially celebrate 75 years as a public library system. In recognition of the 75th Anniversary, Alexandria Library will host a number of special programs throughout 2012.


Alexandria Library opened as a public library system on August 20, 1937 with the construction of the Barrett Branch Library. However, the Library originally began as a subscription library, founded on July 24, 1794 by the Alexandria Library Company, and members were required to pay a fee.


A kick-off event was already held on Saturday, January 28 at the Beatley Central Library hosted by the Alexandria Library Special Collections Division. Robert K. Krick, author and former Chief Historian of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, gave a lecture titled “Robert E. Lee and His Detractors in the Age of the Anti-Hero.” Special Collections also displayed a newly acquired letter penned by Robert E. Lee himself.


“We look forward to commemorating 75 years as a public library system,” said Library Director Rose Dawson. “Throughout 2012, the Library will host a number of programs and events to mark this milestone. Like the rest of Alexandria, the Library has fascinating history.”


Join the Alexandria Library throughout 2012 to celebrate 75 years of history and also look forward to the future of this vibrant library system! Contact Library Administration at (703) 746-1701 for information or questions about the celebration of their 75th Anniversary.


Check out our timeline to learn more about the Alexandria Library throughout the years.


For our Birthday Bash on September 8, State Senator Ebbin read Senate Joint Resolution No. 231, legislation from the Virginia General Assembly that commends the Alexandria Library on the occasion of its 75th anniversary



In 2011, William Francis Smith and his son Leith donated to the Alexandria Library a box of papers from the Cazenove family. Both families had a long association with Alexandria and each other. The Messrs.’ Smith brought to the library’s attention one particular letter in their donation that deserved special attention, and underlined the Cazenove’s close relations with still another prominent Alexandria family, the Lees. This was an 1862 letter from Robert E. Lee to William Cazenove in which the general gently but firmly declined the Alexandria businessman’s offer of service as part of Lee’s “military family.” Instead, General Lee sent his fellow Alexandrian’s offer of service to the Confederate Quartermaster Department. As a merchant and businessman of longstanding and prominence in his native town, William quickly became a captain and spent the remainder of the war gathering materials for the Virginia and Confederate war efforts.

The letter was introduced to the Alexandria public at an event in January 2012. Robert K. Krick, noted author and former Chief Historian at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania national Military Park was the speaker. Mr. Krick enthralled his audience with a spirited talk on Robert E. Lee and his modern detractors. This lecture and the introduction of the letter served as the first event of the Alexandria Library’s year–long celebration of its seventy-five years as a public institution.



During Barrett Branch's Spring Fling Open House, the community was invited to participate in Get Puzzled With Alexandria Library, a communal puzzling program in recognition of the 75th Anniversary of the Alexandria Library becoming a public library. The puzzle that was pieced together over the course of a month is a custom puzzle featuring photos of Alexandria Library’s past and present, designed by Special Collections Photo Librarian Julia Downie.



A 1796 map—which would be the earliest of its kind to be owned by the city—and 200‐plus page ledger will find a home at the Alexandria Library. The acquisition of the extraordinary documents, which belonged to Charles Alexander and were used in a case that was heard by the Supreme Court, was celebrated with members of the historic Alexandria community. The Library is pleased to house the manuscript map and related ledger of land records at one of the city’s leading establishments that focuses on local history and genealogy: The Special Collections Branch at 717 Queen Street.

“I’m amazed that it’s alive, still here and hasn’t perished,” said the branch’s manager, George Combs, who found the map truly remarkable. Noting that the map was created with more detail, coloration and character than your typical manuscript map, he recognizes that it will be a prized possession. “Initially I didn’t think we’d be able to acquire it, especially during these financial times.”

Pulling together to make this momentous feat possible, were contributions of several organizations. This group, led by the Alexandria Library Company, also include the Alexandria Forum, Alexandria Historical Society, the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association, and the Historic Alexandria Foundation.

“Within the historic community, we all agreed the documents should remain in town,” said Rose Dawson, Alexandria Library’s Director. “We appreciated the fact that Gary Eyler, the map’s owner and seller, supported working with the team to make it happen. The Map and Ledger are just a few items we hope to use to heighten public awareness about Alexandria’s rich past.”

Click for NPR clip.



We asked, and you delivered--your postcards. In celebration of Alexandria Library's 75th Anniversary, our "Take Your Library With You” postcard campaign gave the Library some insight about the Alexandria community. We're pleased that our city's residents enjoyed their summer trips, vacationing in destinations near and far. Hover over and click the highlighted areas of the map to see where people traveled, and the books that they brought with them. The vacation maps were also on display at all four Alexandria Library branches.




Alexandria Library's Birthday Bash Saturday was September 8th, 2012.

Our four branches featured guest performers and events that kept all ages entertained and engaged. Thank you for joining us for a day of fun and festive activities as we commemorated our 75th birthday.

Below is a list of events we featured during the celebration:

Beatley Central Branch

Couponing Workshop at 10 a.m. Laura Harders, the "Beltway Bargain Mom", offers frugal tips.

Tech Zoo at 11 a.m. Technology fans will love "petting" or sampling a variety of digital e-readers to learn more about the latest gadgets.

Senator Ebbin's Presentation of Commending Resolution SJR231 from noon to 1 p.m. State Senator Adam Ebbin will present the resolution that recognizes Alexandria Library's 75th anniversary.

Project Natale -- D.C. jazz ensemble Project Natale at 1 p.m. This D.C. jazz ensemble will charm the crowd with live instrumentation on the upright bass, drums, tenor sax and piano.

Interactive Drum Performance at 3 p.m. Ghanian musician Kofi Dennis will lead an interactive drum performance as he shares stories for all ages.

Barrett Branch

Book Sale from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Buy good quality used books and media and support the Friends of the Barrett Branch Library. Hardcover books, DVDs and CDs will be $3; paperback books and VHS tapes will be $2.

Time Travel Alexandria from 11 a.m. to noon Time travel back through Alexandria's history with Photo Librarian Julia Downie. Explore our history through archival photos from the turn of the 20th Century through the 1950s.

1937 Time Travel Book Club from 3 to 4 p.m. Turn back time and come discuss the books our founders would have been reading! Of Mice and Men, The Hobbit, The Years, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Death on the Nile are just a few of the classics that were first published in 1937.

Duncan Branch

Alexandria Fire Department visits the library Firemen and Fire Truck Visit from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. All ages can learn more about fire safety and education.

Irish Breakfast Band from 11 a.m. to noon Del Ray's local band will entertain us with Celtic tunes.

Shazam Magic from 2 to 2:45 p.m. Magician Peter Wood will perform and amaze us with his bag of tricks.

Burke Branch

Cartoon Artist Todd Sprow All Day Todd will transform guests with face painting.

Magician Joe Romano at 11 a.m. Joe will dazzle the crowd with magic and illusions.

Buddie Ford Nature Center at 2 p.m. The Center will showcase their exotic animals. We look forward to celebrating with you! Check out photos of the event on our Facebook Page.