The History of Nelson Memorial Library

Nelson County Memorial Library: A true community library

1940’s: Volunteers from the Nelson County Garden Club maintained a collection of books donated as a memorial to the service men and women of World War II. The books were housed in a former Presbyterian Church (circa 1888) that was owned by the Garden Club.

1970: The Nelson County Chamber of Commerce commissioned the writing of a book which would tell the story of the devastation in Nelson County caused by Hurricane Camille in 1969. Proceeds from the sale of the book “Torn Land” were set aside to be used to build a memorial library.

1972: New legislation in Virginia supported the establishment of regional library systems. With support from the Board of Supervisors, Nelson County was able to access funding and library resources through the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library (JMRL) system. In September, 1972, the Nelson Memorial Branch of JMRL opened its doors to the public in a white-frame church building on Front Street in Lovingston, the county seat.

1980: With circulation and use of the library growing rapidly, the County Chamber of Commerce renewed its fund-raising efforts, actively soliciting donations to the Torn Land Fund.

1983: A Friends of the Library group formed to advocate for a new library building and increased hours of operation. In support of this effort, the Nelson County School Board voted to donate land for construction of a library adjacent to the Lovingston Elementary School.

1986: JMRL and Nelson County were awarded a federal LSCA Title II grant through the Virginia State Library. Other funding was provided by the Nelson County Chamber of Commerce, the Torn Land Memorial Trust Fund, the JMRL and Nelson Memorial Friends of the Library, the County of Nelson, and numerous individuals and businesses.

1987: Construction was begun on the new Nelson Memorial Library building.

1988: The 4300 sq. ft. Nelson Memorial Library was opened for service in May, 1988. Dedicated to the memory of the Nelson County victims of Hurricane Camille, the present-day library is a lasting memorial and a testimonial to the dreams, dedication, and hard work of the people of Nelson County.

Current service: Circulation of books at the Nelson Memorial Library has increased dramatically over the years. In 1972-73, 7,157 books were checked out by patrons. By 1987-88, when the new Nelson County Memorial Library opened, circulation was 46,570. In 2017-2018, annual circulation of physical materials (books, CDs, DVDs) had reached 76,760, but it was limited by the space for housing materials in the 30-year-old building (currently the smallest branch collection within the JMRL system at 21,239). Despite these limitations, more than 40% of Nelson County residents have a library card and use library services. Because of the rural nature of Nelson County, the free 24-hour wireless internet service for patrons with their own devices is heavily used, and 8 computers are also available during the 48 hours per week that the library is open. One hundred ninety-one educational and recreational programs were offered by the library staff in 2017-2018, and program attendance topped 5,000. However, the library has long outgrown its current space


2018: The Nelson County Board of Supervisors, recognizing the value of the library in the community and the fact that its services are limited by the space available in the current building, voted to support an expansion and renovation project that will double the size of the library and modernize its infrastructure to support greatly expanded technology services.