Vinton Planning Commission recommends rezoning former Vinton Branch Library–a little history


VINTON–The Vinton Planning Commission voted to recommend rezoning of the  former Vinton Branch Library located on Washington Avenue at their meeting on June 9. The next step is a public hearing before Vinton Town Council scheduled for June 21. The proposal is to rezone the property from Residential Business to General Business.

Entrepreneur Richard Macher is in the process of purchasing the property from Roanoke County as long as the proposed rezoning of the site from Residential Business to General Business is approved by Vinton Town Council. He plans to open a full service Macado’s Restaurant.

The building, owned by Roanoke County, has been vacant since November 2015 when the new library opened on Pollard Street in downtown Vinton.

Construction on the former library began in 1969. The facility opened to patrons in early April 1970.

According to “Vinton History 1884 to 1984,” a bond issue was passed for building a new library in 1967.

The discussions on building the Washington Avenue library were at times contentious. The idea of building the library on the grounds in front of the Vinton War Memorial was introduced to town council in mid-March 1968.

 Town Manager Guy Gearhart and Councilman Horn examined the proposed site of the former Vinton Library.
Town Manager Guy Gearhart and Councilman Horn examined the proposed site of the former Vinton Library.

The Roanoke County Library Board wanted the library built “as close to Washington Avenue as possible.”  At that time Washington Avenue had not been widened into four lanes. That occurred in 1988.

There were tentative discussions on purchasing a residence located at the corner of the “War Memorial Block.” That would mean that the library and a 30-space parking lot would be built on a portion of the War Memorial lawn and the corner lot.

The town ended up buying the property adjoining the proposed library site owned by Florence Barger and her sister Elizabeth Ayers at the corner of Washington and Meadow.  The property initially belonged to I.N. Moseley. The purchase price was $20,000 shared equally by the Town of Vinton and Roanoke County.

The I.N. Moseley home at the corner of Washington and Meador Street was purchased by the town and county for make way for the library.
The I.N. Moseley home at the corner of Washington and Meador Street was purchased by the town and county for make way for the library.

Councilman Gus Nicks reported to council that he was hearing a lot of opposition to the site proposal including comments at a Lions Club meeting that the proposal would detract from the War Memorial appearance, cause dangerous traffic conditions on Washington Avenue, and impact the possible future widening of Washington Avenue if it were to be located right at the street.

There were suggestions that the library be built elsewhere on the War Memorial grounds which would not require buying the extra property, would not harm the view, and would not require the expense of removing a building.

The initial agreement was for Vinton was to provide the site for building the library while the county would foot the bill for construction costs with contributions from a federal grant.

Conceptual drawing for Vinton Library on Washington Avenue.
Conceptual drawing (1969) for Vinton Library on Washington Avenue.

Time was limited for making a decision because they were seeking federal funding which had a deadline for initiation of the project.

The project was expected to cost $250,000 with Roanoke County paying $115,000, Vinton paying $10,000, and the remaining $125,000 coming from the federal grant.

The preliminary cost analysis detailed an estimated site cost of $20,000; an estimated cost of $192,150 for the 7,000 square-foot building at $27.45 per square foot; estimated equipment costs of $20,000 for 40,000 volumes at fifty cents per book; and the architect’s fee of $17,850.

Nicks and Town Manager Guy Gearhart planned a formal presentation to council for April 1, 1968.

Town Council ended up voting unanimously in favor of building the library “beside Meadow Street near the west end of the Vinton War Memorial almost 200 feet off of Washington. The chosen site represented a compromise between council and the library board.

Council instructed the architects to draw up plans to be approved by the State Library Board before May 15 in order to qualify for federal grants. They hoped for construction to get underway in October or early November of 1968 with completion in the summer of 1969.

Gearhart asked architects to draw up plans for a Colonial-type building that would be in keeping with the architecture of the War Memorial and Thrasher Memorial Methodist Church across the street.

Another article from the Vinton Messenger in January 1969 indicates that the town made the decision not to move the house they had purchased at 704 E. Washington to another location on the War Memorial grounds. They offered the dwelling for sale to anyone willing to move it to a new location.

The article says that council had considered moving the house to the Memorial site and using it as a place for paying taxes and water bills to supplement the town treasurer’s office. There was even talk of a drive-thru window, but they decided that “the costs of heat, lights, water, and other upkeep would not justify the limited use it would have.”

The house eventually would be demolished when the library was built.

What delayed the project is not clear, but Vinton was involved in discussions of annexation by Roanoke City or becoming an independent city at the time. In addition, discussions about the direction of the entire Roanoke County Library system were being held. It is also not clear how what started out as a request for a Colonial-type design ended up with the conceptual design adopted.

Eventually construction of the Vinton library was scheduled to begin on March 1, 1969. Plans were drawn up by the architectural firm of Kinsey, Motley, & Shane of Salem. The Virginia State Library Board approved use of a federal grant of $66,622 toward construction of the $250,000 Vinton Library project.

Former Vinton Library under construction in 1969.
Former Vinton Library under construction in 1969.

Seven bids were received for the project. The lowest, for $239,000, was submitted by B. F. Parrott & Company of Roanoke.

The hope was to open the doors of the new library by March 1970. Carpeting and furniture were expected to be installed in February. A minimum of 10,000 books were to be on the shelves by opening day. The new building had a capacity of 45,000 volumes.

There was a children’s room and a multi-purpose room which could seat 100 people. The entire library would contain 7,500 square feet of floor space.

Former Vinton Library under construction in 1969.
Former Vinton Library under construction in 1969.

At the time the Washington Avenue library was under construction, the Vinton Library was located in a wing of the Vinton War Memorial. William Morton Hill was the librarian, assisted by Alta Long, Audra Simmons, and Henry Klingel with more help to be hired for the new building. Those came to include Ann Divers and James Young.

Several civic clubs helped the library in its move from the War Memorial to the new building, including the Lions Club and the Leo Club. The Women’s Auxiliary of the Vinton Moose Lodge fixed lunch for the movers.

The new library opened during the first week of April 1970. Their hours were Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.; Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 9 to 5. The library was closed on Sunday.

Librarian Hill said that they would be adding about 100 books a week until they reached a basic collection of 15,000 books. He estimated that the library would not outgrow the building capacity for about 25 years.

The reading material would also include the New York Times, the Roanoke Times, the Roanoke World-News, and the Vinton Messenger and 67 magazines.

Hill said the basic collection would fulfill the needs of “children looking for their first book, young adults looking for material for a term-paper project, women seeking information on gardening or cooking, or men wanting books to further their careers or help them enjoy their leisure time.”