Welcome to the Handley Regional Library System, home to the magnificent 110-year-old Handley Library – a true architectural gem nestled in the heart of Winchester, Virginia. Join us on our next exclusive tour, taking place on November 11th at 11 AM, as we unlock the secrets of this historic library, delving into its fascinating architecture and rich history.
Unveiling Hidden Treasures
The Handley Library branch tour promises a captivating journey behind the scenes, granting you access to all floors of this iconic building. You'll have the unique opportunity to explore its beautiful architecture, uncovering its storied history along the way. As you traverse the library, you will walk on the famous glass floors and peer down into the well ingeniously built into the stage. Our meeting point is on the Lower Level, where the adventure begins.
For those unable to make it in person, don't worry! We've thought of you too. Embark on a Self-Guided Tour of Handley Library at your own pace, using our brand-new virtual room-by-room tour app. This innovative experience enables you to browse each room and discover the library's architectural marvels and surprising features. Access our self-guided tour effortlessly by scanning the QR code in the rotunda or by simply clicking here.
A Glimpse into the Past
The Handley Library, a testament to architectural excellence and community spirit, stands as a beacon of enlightenment and cultural appreciation. Its story is deeply rooted in the vision of Judge John Handley, an Irish-American coal magnate and lawyer. Impressed by Winchester's Scotch-Irish heritage during his visits, he bequeathed $250,000 in his will to construct a library "for the free use of the people of the city of Winchester" and schools for the underprivileged.
Construction, masterminded by New York architects Barney and Chapman, commenced in 1908. The grand cornerstone ceremony on May 26th, accompanied by a majestic parade, marked the beginning of the library's journey. At that time, the building's fireproof construction and facilities were cutting-edge, and the project's total cost amounted to $233,230.
The library, inaugurated on August 21, 1913, originally featured a 300-seat lecture hall, study rooms, and conference areas, spearheaded by its first librarian, C. Vernon Eddy, who served until 1960. In December 1953, a significant milestone was reached when city officials opened the library to all residents, irrespective of their race, marking a significant step towards inclusivity and progress.
A Historical Landmark
Handley Library's significance is further underscored by its inclusion on the Virginia Landmarks Register (VLR) on September 9, 1969, and the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) on November 12, 1969. It also holds the esteemed status of a contributing property to the Winchester Historic District, itself listed on the NRHP in 1980.
Architectural firm Smithey and Boynton of Roanoke added an extension in 1979, earning an honor award from the American Institute of Architects for their excellent work. In 1997, Dennis Kowal Architects of Somerville, New Jersey, compiled a comprehensive historic preservation plan, leading the restoration and rehabilitation efforts in 1999. Their extraordinary work was recognized when Dennis Kowal was awarded the Lucille Lozier Award by Preservation of Historic Winchester, Inc., for the "outstanding restoration" of the Handley Regional Library.
The Handley Library stands as a masterpiece of Beaux-Arts classicism, perhaps Virginia's purest expression of this regal and florid architectural style. The design itself is a homage to the world of literature, with the dome representing the spine of an open book and the wings symbolizing the book's covers. Crafted from limestone, the library boasts an octagonal base and a central dome, with a three-arched entrance greeting visitors at the intersection of Braddock and Piccadilly Streets. Two wings elegantly flank the dome, adorned with single-pitched roofs featuring dormer lights, balustrades, and Ionic colonnades. Heavy stone reliefs of figures and fruit embellish numerous windows and doors, adding an extra layer of grandeur to this architectural masterpiece.
Our free tours are offered on the second Saturday of every month. Whether you're a history enthusiast, an architecture aficionado, or just curious about the legacy of Judge John Handley, there's something for everyone within these hallowed walls.