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Fauquier County Public Library -- Library History

Library Home Page > Library History

History of the Library

The John Barton Payne Building Exterior The Warrenton Library Association

The present Fauquier County Public Library came into being in 1969, but the seeds of the organization had been sown more than 60 years before.

The private Warrenton Library Association began serving the community in 1907 in the old Farmer’s Hotel, which was located on the site of the present Red Truck Bakery at the intersections of Main and Waterloo Streets.

The great Warrenton fire of 1909 destroyed the hotel, although some library books were saved. The library operation was moved for a short time to the “California House” on Hotel Street before moving to the Warren Green Hotel where it remained until 1924.

A notable high point in the library’s history occurred in 1917 when President Theodore Roosevelt and several others rode on horseback from the White House to Warrenton. The town hosted a reception, and, in appreciation, the President presented the library with a large photo of himself in his hunting clothes along with notes from his ride.

Adequate funding was a constant challenge during the early years of the private library association. As early as 1910, library supporters conducted fundraisers to purchase new books and board members and others often hosted events to raise operating money. Despite setbacks, such as the forced closure of the library during the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, the board sought to improve library service and materials while looking for a permanent home for the facility.

A New Home for the Warrenton Library

In May of 1921, Judge John Barton Payne, who had served as Secretary of the Interior under President Wilson from 1920 to 1921, pledged funds for a permanent structure for the library. Judge Payne, a philanthropist with family ties to Fauquier County, was the chairman of the American Red Cross from October 1921 until his death in 1935.

The cornerstone for the Warrenton Library was laid on June 16, 1923, at the corner of Waterloo and Main with Warrenton Mayor A. O. Weedon presiding. Eleven months later, on May 20, 1924, library committee member Judge George Latham Fletcher dedicated the library and introduced the speaker for the event, Dr. Edwin A. Alderman, then president of the University of Virginia.

The new Warrenton Library building, now known as the John Barton Payne Building, housed the library from 1924 until 1982. The library attracted additional patrons each year, but continued to struggle with expenses. In order to realize a steady income, the lower level of the building was rented to the American Red Cross from 1933 until 1964. Despite these hardships, the library continued to grow and serve its community.

During World War II, the library opened three nights a week for the benefit of the Signal Corps at Vint Hill. It also donated duplicate copies of titles for the Victory Book campaign. In 1949, the library classified the book collection under the Dewey Decimal System.

In order to meet demands for expanded service, the library became free to the public on May 1, 1964. Operating income then came from the Town of Warrenton, Fauquier County and Federal governments. With increasing pressure to expand, a local fundraising effort in 1965 raised money to update the upper level and to renovate the lower level for a children’s section.

Fauquier County Public LibraryThe Warrenton Library

In June 1969, the Library Board of Trustees voted to turn the Warrenton Library Association over to the county and the Fauquier County Public Library officially began.

In December 1969 Library Board members agreed to make recommendations for a new committee to be established as “Friends” of the library. In February 1970, Mrs. John Mayo and Mrs. Nickolas Kossuth met with the board and consented to help in the formation of a Friends group. At the library board meeting on April 7, 1970, it was announced that the newly formed Friends group would begin meeting the following day and would henceforth be known as the Friends of the Fauquier Library.

Since its inception, the Friends of the Fauquier Library, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the library, has worked to help the library provide special programs and services. Its support expands and enriches the library's regular budget through membership dues, fundraisers and proceeds from book sales. These "extras" include special events such as author visits, guest story tellers, the summer reading programs and other cultural events for children, teens and adults. The Friends also provides funding for items such as equipment and furniture.

The library prospered during the 1970s, although a fire in May 1976 forced it to close for several weeks. Thankfully, only a small part of the collection was lost. A portrait of Judge John Barton Payne, painted by famous Virginia artist Gari Melchers in 1924, sustained damage during the fire and still bears permanent discoloration of the canvas in the area of the Judge’s forehead. Today, the painting hangs over the fireplace mantel in the John Barton Payne Building.

Throughout the 1970s the community was in turmoil over the fate of the library. The growing collection had exceeded its space capacity and books often had to be stacked on the floor. It was evident that a new facility was necessary.

After several years of exploring alternatives, the library board requested a new building from the county’s board of supervisors. Public concern over a large tax expenditure, coupled with sentimental attachment to the John Barton Payne Building, thwarted the trustees efforts until the early 1980s.

In 1979, local businessman Edward L. Stephenson donated funds to the Town of Warrenton to purchase the Bekins Building at 11 Winchester St., and the town and county agreed that the county would operate a public library at that site. Mr. Stephenson spearheaded the renovation of the facility, which had been built in 1929 as a Buick dealership.

Privately raised money, combined with county funds, enabled the work to begin. The new library was dedicated on Saturday, April 24, 1982. The Keynote address was given by the Honorable Arthur J. Goldberg, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Fauquier resident.

The 1980s proved to be an exciting and demanding era for the library. Many changes were implemented in keeping with evolving library technology and a changing county population.

The library became fully automated in January 1986, thanks to a Title II Library Sciences and Construction Act grant. The John Barton Payne Building was renovated in 1987. County funds and money raised by the Friends of the Fauquier Library provided needed space for library offices and a community room in the building.

The 90s ushered in a new decade of challenges for the library. To help address the growing demand for library service in the county, the Bealeton Branch Library in the Bealeton Village Shopping Center was opened in early 1991. Renovations to the main library in Old Town Warrenton were completed in 1993. At that time, all library offices remaining in the John Barton Payne Building were moved to the newly renovated Warrenton Library.

In January 1996, the Bealeton Branch doubled in size and a new library, the John Marshall Branch, opened in the Marshall Community Center.

The Friends of the Fauquier Library was also expanding. For years the Friends had hosted yearly and semi-yearly book sales as part of its fund-raising program. On Oct. 8, 1999, the Friends opened the Book Cellar, a used book store that operates in the basement of the John Barton Payne Building. Proceeds from the Book Cellar, like all Friends fundraisers, support the library’s collection, programs and services.

The John Marshall Library expanded to 3,200 feet in 2001, and in December 2003, a newly built 10,000-square foot freestanding Bealeton Library was opened at 10877 Willow Drive North. In November 2010, renovations to the Bealeton Depot, which sits adjacent to the Bealeton Library, were completed.  The charming 800-square-foot depot is used as a program room for the Bealeton Library and as a meeting room for private and community events.

The library changes with the times technologically, but it continues to offer the friendly, thorough service that has been customary since the library’s beginning. Staff members continually search for the most current informational materials while researching new support services to meet ever-changing patron interests and educational needs.

The county, the Library Board of Trustees, and library staff all share the same goal: to ensure that citizens of Fauquier County enjoy the best library system possible. The library’s mission statement declares: An informed citizenry and free access to information are fundamental to our democratic society. The Fauquier County Public Library, a basic government service, provides resources and programs that seek to inform, enrich, and entertain every member of our society.