I n 1891, a small group of businessmen created a Subscription Library in Newport News. In 1903, a second group known as the Public Library Committee moved the collection from the First National Bank Building to the building occupied by the Young Men’s Christian Association on 32nd Street. Five years later, in 1908, a new organization called the Newport News Public Library Association (renamed the Newport News Public Library, Inc. after it was chartered by the Commonwealth in 1927) took control of the collection with the purpose of establishing a public library building. On October 14, 1929 West Avenue Library opened in its impressive Georgian style building, with Homer L. Ferguson, president of Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company as principal speaker. The building was located on four lots valued at $12,000. The land was donated by the ODLC.
This March 17, 1914 receipt acknowledges a gift of $50.00
from the ODLC to the Newport News Public Library.
1951 Segregation Issue
The decision to open the library to all adults came after W. Hale Thompson, a black attorney, brought a suit against the city that had already been involved in two other racial discrimination suits involving its parks and recreational facilities. Those suits were dropped when the city built equal but separate facilities for blacks. The city also established a branch library in the new Dorie Miller Recreation Building for blacks. However, Thompson was not satisfied with this halfway measure and argued that it did not “satisfy the State and Federal constitutional requirements of equal protection of the law.” On July 8, 1952, two days before the trial was to begin, the board of directors of Newport News Public Library, Inc. opened the West Avenue Library to all adults.
H. R. Gilroy’s plat shows the ODLC land that became the site of the West Avenue Library.
The program for April 11, 1929 corner stone laying of the Newport News Public Library included the presentation of the deed by Mr. Walter B. Livezey, President of the ODLC, and an address by Homer L. Ferguson, President of Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company.
On May 2, 1957, citizens gathered at West Avenue Library for the unveiling of Allan D. Jones, Jr.’s mural of Christopher Newport’s arrival.
This bookmark, which shows the mural, illustrates Captain Christopher Newport arriving at Newport News Point on May 2, 1607. The mural was unveiled in 1957 for the 350th anniversary of the Jamestown Landing. It was restored in 2007 for the 400th anniversary celebration.
In 2005, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources placed the West Avenue Library on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Because of its age, architecture and social history, the library also was included in the Heart of the Community: The Libraries We Love, published by Berkshire Publishing in 2007.