Ongoing Friends Activities
Publishing, Outreach, and Fundraising
Among the goals of Friends of Thomas Balch Library is greater awareness of the Library as valuable and readily accessible resource, education of members and the public through projects and programs, and increased support through fundraising.
We partner with Loudoun County Public Schools to provide study guides for teachers to fulfill Virginia Standards of Learning requirements. We publish, promote, and sell books by local historians, including Eugene M. Scheel, Ann W. Thomas, Douglas W. Foard, Ph.D., and Black History Committee members Elaine E. Thompson, Deborah A. Lee, Betty Morefield, and the late Lemoine D. Pierce.
Through our new video history program we are capturing the stories of residents who have contributed to the community in unique ways.
In 2015 we sponsored an interview with Teckla Cox, Loudoun's first woman comprehensive county planner (who lives in Leesburg's first platted area, shown above), and another with Howard Allen, the photographer best known for his images of Jackie Kennedy and her children riding in Middleburg. The video was completed shortly before he passed away.
We also publish a quarterly newsletter, The Chronicle, which focuses on Leesburg and Loudoun County history as well as news of upcoming lectures and special events. And we created and maintain this website to keep members, teachers, students, historians, genealogists, and the general public up to date on activities and opportunities for making the most of the unique resource that is Thomas Balch Library.
In the area of fundraising, Friends of Thomas Balch Library holds an annual fall fundraising event to raise awareness of the historical significance of Loudoun County and to provide funds toward the recently launched the Thomas Balch Library Endowment Foundation. The Foundation grew from a generous bequest of more than $600,000 made by the late Virginia Bowie, a longtime volunteer to the Library.
Friends of Thomas Balch Library completed a Capital Campaign to generate public and corporate interest in support of Thomas Balch Library and its expansion. The Campaign surpassed its goal of $400,000. Funds purchased furniture and technology equipment for the 1999-2001 renovation and expansion of the facility by the Town of Leesburg. We continue to provide opportunities to honor or memorialize individuals or ancestors at Thomas Balch Library through bequests and endowments, or by purchasing brass leaves for the Tree of History or bricks for the B. Powell and Agnes Harrison Memorial Garden.
You can learn more about how you can support the Library through the Friends by clicking here.
Black History Committee
One of the most significant outcomes of the Capital Campaign is the creation of the Friends' Black History Committee (BHC) whose work since its founding in 2000 has added immeasurable depth and breadth to our knowledge and understanding of Loudoun County's African American history and heritage. The Committee was launched at the time an anonymous donor gave $50,000 to the Friends during the Campaign, suggesting that one room of the renovated and expanded library be named for an African American from Loudoun County. The BHC’s continuing mission: “to preserve, collect, promote and share the history of African Americans who contributed to the emergence and development of Loudoun County, Virginia."
Commissioning Art for the Thomas Balch Library
Mural: "A Loudoun County Story"
Among the Friends' accomplishments is a contribution to both the Library building and its permanent collection of Loudoun history. That is the four-panel frieze just below the skylight in the Library's Margaret Mercer Room—the finishing historic touch on the five-year process to renovate and expand the building.
An ambitious undertaking, the project was launched by the Friends under the auspices of two groups of volunteers—the Theme Committee of local historians and the Artist Selection Committee, both chaired by local artist Ann Noel.
Through a careful and extensive process that began with invitations to some 300 artists and resulted in 23 submissions, the Selection Committee chose the artist whose talents and experience were just right for this project—the renowned muralist William Woodward, below. His four 22-foot by 29-inch panels, shown here, authentically capture the county's past.
Professor Emeritus of Fine Art at The George Washington University, Woodward taught and directed the painting program for graduate students. Woodward grew up in Washington D.C., and earned his B.A. and M.A. from American University. He studied at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and at the Accademia di Belli Arti in Florence, Italy. In 1989, he won the design competition for a silver dollar minted by the U.S Treasury, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Congress. His most recent commissions include a mural at the Lincoln National Monument in Washington, D.C. Woodward has several decades of experience in creating narrative art. He was selected to paint “The Greatest Show on Earth," now in the permanent collection of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.
Made possible by a generous grant from Toll Brothers, the mural is a visual depiction of the story of Loudoun County and captures the evolution of the region. A book entitled A Loudoun County Story was published in conjunction with the project and is available at Thomas Balch Library.
To enlarge the panel images, below, click on each to open it in a lightbox.
Panel 1: The First Frontier depicts the original inhabitants and early European colonization.
Panel 2: The Golden Age of Agriculture illustrates the revolution in transportation (turnpikes, canals, and railroads), as well as wheat—Loudoun's staple agricultural product—and the country store, the center of community life.
Panel 3: A Country Divided: War, Destruction, and Readjustment highlights the battle at Ball’s Bluff, the burning of Loudoun Valley, and the rebuilding and adjustment after the Civil War.
Panel 4: The Urban Frontier highlights the advent of electricity and automobiles as agents of revolutionary change, the racial divide from lifestyle to education, and expansion, development, and the Dulles Airport.
Meeting the Piscataway
This oil on linen painting completed by the muralist William Woodward in 2003 was made possible through a generous donation of Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Dodge, Jr. Mrs. Dodge was a descendant of Burr Harrison. The work depicts the first recorded meeting on April 12, 1699 between colonists and the indigenous peoples of Loudoun County at the fort of the Piscataway on what is now Conoy Island in the Potomac near Point of Rocks. The two colonists, Burr Harrison of Chopawamsi and Giles Vandercastel of Accotink, are conveying a request from the governor of Virginia, Francis Nicholson, to the chief of the Piscataway to come to Williamsburg for a meeting. The Piscataway declined, asking the governor to visit them.
Five Portraits Commissioned By The Friends
The Friends of Thomas Balch Library also commissioned five portraits painted by Kurt Schwartz a local artist residing in Waterford, Loudoun County, Virginia:
Margaret Mercer (1791-1846) of Belmont Plantation, an educator and abolitionist who ran a school for girls and was active in resettlement of slaves to Liberia.
John Janney (1798-1872): Lawyer, longtime Loudoun County politician; president of the Virginia 1861 Secession Convention who was opposed to secession but reluctantly supported Virginia once the course was set.
John Elbert Divine (1911-1996): Farmer, raised in Waterford, VA and descended from a well-established (five generations) Loudoun family. His interests included the American Civil War and local history. The Loudoun County History Awards, sponsored by Thomas Balch Library Advisory Commission and the Thomas Balch Library, were created to recognize John Divine’s dedication to the preservation of local history.
Westmoreland Davis (1859-1942): Lawyer, horseman, activist, and politician who rose from poverty to be elected governor of Virginia—the first Loudoun resident to serve as governor; philanthropist and a longtime supporter of Thomas Balch Library (he funded the librarian’s salary for extended periods during lean times.
Howard Willard Clark (1876-1960): Member of Loudoun County Emancipation Association and advocate for racial equality.
Works Made Possible By the Black History Committee
Important contributions to the Library have been made possible through the Black History Committee. Click here to learn more about them.