The earliest libraries in Montgomery County were created by church Sunday Schools, clubs or societies, or even private individuals. In Christiansburg, for example, girls attending the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church Sunday School class taught by Miss Emaline Miller (later Emaline Craig) in 1833 were able to check out books from the “lybrary.” This library may have belonged to the Miller family since the circulation record was kept by Miss Miller in a small handmade booklet.
The Christiansburg Circulating Library Company was incorporated on March 16, 1850 by a number of well-known Christiansburg professional men including Eli Phlegar, David G. Douthat, and Rev. Nicholas Chevalier. No further details of this library are known, but it may have been a for-profit subscription or membership-based institution. The next library we have records for was at the Virginia Agricultural & Mechanical College, which had a 500 book library when it was founded in 1872.
There was a public library in place in Christiansburg by 1907 when the Christiansburg Library was noted in the annual Report of the State Librarian as being a “citizen’s library” station serviced by the Virginia State Library’s Traveling Library Department. The same report notes that Shawsville was served by one of sixty-seven library stations. The Shawsville station had 39 borrowers for the year with a circulation of 173. The library in Christiansburg was still in operation in 1916 when a notice in the News Messenger noted a library “story hour” event. In 1919, the Christiansburg Free Library’s limited hours were announced in the News Messenger; it was open only on Wednesdays from 2:30-3:30 pm. From its description as a “free” library it is clear that this was a public institution without membership or subscription fees. Long-serving Montgomery County School Superintendant Evans King once recalled that in 1928, the Christiansburg library held 500 books.
The existing county library began in 1941 as part of the Radford Area Library system. Established with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds, branches were located at Radford and at Christiansburg. The Christiansburg library was initially housed in the mezzanine level of the Piedmont Department Store at 34-36 East Main Street. The space was donated by the store’s manager, Isaac Mensh. It opened in 1944 with Miss Juanita Robertson as the librarian.
The county ceased contributing funds to the program in 1943 ending WPA funds as well. A citizen campaign restored funds, however, and the library grew to 40,000 books. The Christiansburg Library moved to the Phlegar Building on South Franklin Street in 1946, to the Marshall House in 1953, then to a former church on Radford Road in 1977. The first Blacksburg branch library was established on Main Street in 1969. It later moved to Draper Road. The City of Radford left the library system in 1970 and Floyd County joined in 1975 to create the regional system still in place today.
Branch libraries throughout the county often began as deposit places located in homes, crossroads stores, etc. that were stocked monthly from a bookmobile. The bookmobile was crucial to the growth of the library system. The first bookmobile, created during the 1930s, was a retrofitted automobile with lift-up panels covering shelves that were accessed from outdoors. This unit was invaluable during the gasoline rationing of the World War II period. In 1949, the Bookmobile added a trailer; the first in the state. The trailer was elaborately designed with shelves, desk, coat closet, cupboard, heat, lights and venetian blinds. It carried 1,200 books. In 1961, this was replaced with a van and in 1978 a Gerstenslager model bookmobile with 2,500 books. The bookmobile service ended in 2008.
The long history of the library illustrates both the importance placed on reading in Montgomery County and the efforts community members have made to ensure that books were available to all. Looking at the long history of local libraries highlights how fortunate we are to have access to the significant offerings available at the modern Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library system.
Kanode, Roy, Christiansburg, Virginia
Report of the State Librarian, 1907-1908 and Acts of Incorporation, 1850; copies in Montgomery Museum files
Miscellaneous documents, June Sayers, Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library