Charles City County can no longer say it’s Virginia’s only county without its own library.
On Sunday, the county officially opened the Charles City Library, the culmination of a project that has taken more than a dozen years to complete. Residents now have a place to read books, use the internet and learn more about the county’s history.
“This is an exciting day for Charles City,” said Jimmy Tyler, the great-grandson of John Tyler, the 10th U.S. president and a Charles City native. Tyler chairs the county’s library campaign committee.
The library replaces a 2,000-square-foot space that was open inside the county’s courthouse 17 hours a week. It’s a branch of Heritage Public Library, a regional library system that serves Charles City and neighboring New Kent County.
The new, 8,200-square-foot facility, at 10790 Courthouse Road, is scheduled to be open 40 hours a week.
The roughly $4 million brown building provides a modern look for the government complex it surrounds, with large windows offering a look inside as the library stands out in front of the tree line behind it.
“It’s a space to be proud of,” said County Administrator Michelle Johnson.
County, state and library officials broke ground on the library in April 2018, 14 years after the county initially said it wanted to have its own freestanding library. There’s been turnover in county leadership, though, with four different county administrators since 2004.
“We’ve had our ons and offs, but the desire has been steady,” Tyler said.
A 2015 ballot referendum started to make the idea a reality.
Three in five Charles City voters approved of a referendum asking if the county should take out $2.5 million in bonds to build its own library and history center. The library campaign has also raised money to pay for the project, which totaled about $4 million.
With a small population of about 7,000 people, the county doesn’t have a large tax base.
For decades, Charles City has relied on revenue from the Waste Management landfill, which brings in about $3 million of its budget, which totals about $17 million.
The county was the only one in Virginia without a full facility for library services and archives, according to Heritage Public Library.
The finished product, designed by Enteros Design and built by David A. Nice Builders, is a one-level library with different sections for children’s, teen and adult books. There’s a classroom and a room for small groups to work together.
A “huskanaw” pen is in the children’s area to pay tribute to the county’s Native Americans, who account for 7 percent of Charles City’s population. The pen was used in ceremonies for Virginia Indian boys moving into adulthood, according to the Library of Virginia.
The library also has desktop computers with fiber internet. A little more than half of the county’s households have access to broadband internet, the eighth-lowest percentage in the state. Tyler said the library will be home to workforce development and help residents with job résumés, among other things.
“It’s a lot more than just checking out books,” Tyler said.
The library will also house the Richard M. Bowman Center for Local History.
The center, named for the man known as “Mr. History” in Charles City before his 2014 death, will be open at the same times as the library.
It had been located in a separate building , but the new space puts the history center and the library under one roof.
The 2,000 square feet dedicated to the history center — the same footprint of the current makeshift library in the courthouse — includes a study area for the local history collections owned by the library.
“Now we have a space where the archives can be properly preserved,” said Chandra McPherson, the director of Heritage Public Library.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has also planned to build a trail from the county’s two schools, which are also on Courthouse Road, to the library. The trail is expected to be built this summer.
The library has an amphitheater and bike racks outside for riders of the Capital Trail.
Johnson, the country administrator, said Dollar General plans to open a store also between the schools and the new library.
“We’re excited to create a downtown Charles City,” Johnson said.
The opening of the library comes months after another community-oriented space opened in the county.
“The Den” in the high school gives food, clothing and household items away for free every other week. The area behind the School Board office also has two laptop computers with a printer for residents to use to apply for jobs.
Jackie Stewart, the head of the Charles City Educational Foundation, which opened the center, said the foundation hopes to add a laundry facility, which the county lacks, in the coming months.
“We’re trying to meet community needs,” she said. And so is the library.