History of the Hampton Public Library - 1926 to 2006
By Elizabeth Wilson
The Hampton Public Library began as the first free county library in Virginia, when Hampton was the county seat of the then existing Elizabeth City County. Grace Taylor Armstrong, a Hampton resident, donated $26,000 to construct a library in memory of her father, General Charles H. Taylor, publisher of the Boston Globe. On July 12, 1926, the Charles H. Taylor Memorial Library opened its doors at 4205 Victoria Boulevard with 3,200 books. This collection was gained through the joining of the new library's books with those of the libraries of the Armstrong and John M. Willis elementary schools and Hampton High School, and with most of the new collection coming from the Esther Burdick Library of Syms-Eaton Elementary School.
It was expected that the new library would serve the schools and the residents of both the county and the city, which had a combined population of 31,500. Grace Taylor Armstrong and her husband, Matthew C. Armstrong, sat on the library's Board of Trustees from 1924-1966. A specially designed bookplate with the words of General Taylor was placed in the library's books, and many of these original Charles H. Taylor books can still be found in the Virginiana section of the Special Collections Department.
From Free to Public
Upon the annexation of Elizabeth City County by the city of Hampton in 1952, Hampton became an independent city within the Commonwealth of Virginia. The first free county library became the city's public library, and it remains so today. On April 19, 1964, the city dedicated a 6,420 square foot addition to the library that almost tripled the library's available space. The addition expanded the library's capacity to hold 65,000 volumes and the facility had in 1964 about 48,000 volumes.
Hampton's Mayor Ann Kilgore checked out the first book from the city's first bookmobile on April 8, 1968. The following year, the Bethel branch library opened its doors on May 26. By its fiftieth anniversary in 1976, Charles H. Taylor Memorial Library had become the main library of the city's public library system, which had grown to include branches in Northampton, Phoebus, Willow Oaks and Pine Chapel. In 1976, the library served a city population of 120,779 with a collection of 163,180 books.
By 1983 the city's population had grown to 122,617 and the library's collection totaled 227,938 volumes. In that same year Mayor James L. Eason, the City Council, the library's Board of Trustees, the Friends of the Hampton Public Library and the Kecoughtan Literary Circle joined to support the building of a new main library. The dedication of the new Hampton Public Library building took place on March 29, 1987. The 53,000 square foot building, with a contemporary design that borrows from the Victorian character of its neighborhood, stands adjacent to its former residence, the Charles H. Taylor building.
In the year 2006 the Hampton Public Library observed its eightieth anniversary, and it has developed to accommodate the public's growing information needs. The current 316,828 total holdings consist of more than just books. The other materials are periodicals, audiobooks, videocassettes, compact discs, digital video discs, and children's multimedia Discovery Packs. The library has moved forward with twenty-first century technology and offers the city's 146,437 citizens access to the internet on more than seventy public-use computers. The library has certainly grown with the city, and with the needs of its citizens, since that opening day in 1926.