University History

Frederic William Boatwright Memorial Library

Frederic William Boatwright Memorial Library

Site: North side of Westhampton Lake, on hill top
Dedication: November 1, 1955
Architects: Carneal & Johnston
Size: Original building 37,000 square feet; currently 127,533 square feet of library space
Cost: $825,000 (original building)
Major Renovations: North wing added 1976; further expansion 1989
Rededications: March 3, 1977; April 13, 1989

Frederic William Boatwright Memorial Library opened in 1955. It was built overlooking the lake, on the site of the Playhouse a wooden frame building that was destroyed by fire in 1950. The Playhouse was part of the amusement park that previously occupied the land purchased by the University. The library building was named in honor of President Frederic William Boatwright. Boatwright died in 1951, four years before the library was dedicated.

The original library in Ryland Hall was quickly outgrown, with books soon shelved two-deep and thousands of others stored elsewhere on campus. A promotional brochure for the new library campaign stated that “Only one student in ten can be seated in the library reading rooms, which are so badly crowded that study is difficult.” By 1930 an expanded library was an identified need. The first plans were drawn in 1936, by Carneal, Johnston, and Wright, but funding for the building did not come until years later.

In 1944, a $500,000 campaign was initiated to raise funds for a new library. The Rev. Reuben E. Alley, a trustee, was the chairman of the Virginia Baptist General Association Committee charged with raising the $500,000 for the library.[1] In the Virginia Baptist Historical Society’s material concerning the campaign to build the library, several letters can be found from ministers and church clerks complaining that the fund-raising committee had overstated the amount their church had pledged to raise for the library. Alley writes that overall the appeal was successful, with gifts reaching $510,000. Contributions to Richmond’s capital needs budget brought the total up to about $800,000, approximately the amount needed to complete the building. From the beginning, space for the Virginia Baptist Historical Society (VBHS) was taken into account in planning the new library.

The library’s design is Collegiate Gothic, constructed of red brick with limestone trim. The building does not need interior supporting walls because its weight hangs on steel beams and columns. The library was designed to have few visual obstructions inside; the space was open and airy. The building is four stories and has a bell tower that is 124 feet tall.

The bell tower contains a carillon. When the library first opened in 1955, a bell rang at 8:30 a.m. and then at one-hour intervals throughout the day. At 5:00 p.m., the carillon would play a concert of traditional Baptist hymns. Lightning struck the carillon in late 1978 or early 1979, but it was not repaired until 1982.[2] After it was repaired, a biology professor, Dr. Willie Reams, purchased new music to be played in the carillon. Today, the tower uses a 10-year-old system of digitally sampled electronic bells, which play music daily at 12:30 and at 5:00. The song-selection cards are inserted four times per year. For special occasions live music has been played from a keyboard in the tower.

The new library was dedicated on November 1, 1955 in a ceremony at Cannon Memorial Chapel. In accepting the library for the University, Dr. Justin T. Moore, Rector, stated, “There, among the literary treasures of the centuries, young people will find guides in their search for truth and beauty.” As originally built the library had the capacity to hold 500,000 volumes. At the time it opened it contained about 90,000. The building totaled roughly 37,000 square feet of floor space.

The day after the dedication ceremony, the Richmond News Leader ran a story with the headline “Library at University of Richmond Designed for Easy Book Access.” Librarian Dr. Ray W. Frantz, Jr. was quoted as saying, “The University of Richmond’s new Boatwright Memorial Library is like a supermarket. Students can pick out books here as easily as housewives can choose groceries in the most modern supermarket.”

A commemorative plaque honoring President Boatwright was placed in the foyer of the library when it opened. In May 1987, a bronze bust of Boatwright was presented to the Frederic W. Boatwright Society, composed of alumni who had graduated at least 50 years earlier,[3] and installed in the library. The sculptor was Edward Fenno Hoffman III. The bust was a focal point at a tribute to Boatwright’s 51 years as president held during alumni weekend that month.

Two major expansions of the library, as well as several renovations, have taken place since it opened. Construction of a four-story wing on the north side of the library, facing Richmond Way, was authorized in May 1974 and completed in May 1976. According to a brochure about the project, the new wing was planned to “triple the size of the library, expanding seating capacity, and providing room for more than a half-million volumes for research and reading.” The main entrance and circulation desk were moved as part of this expansion. Upon completion, approximately 40,000 square feet were added. Plans also called for computer terminals to be placed in the library and for the Learning Resource Center to be created. The original section of the building was also completely renovated. The expanded and renovated library was rededicated on March 3, 1977.

Also added with this renovation was the Theodore F. Adams Auditorium, given by the First Baptist Church of Richmond Endowment Fund and named in honor of trustee and pastor emeritus of the First Baptist Church. The Lora Robins Gallery of Designs from Nature was installed as well and opened to the public on April 24, 1977. The Gallery’s collection includes more than 1,000 minerals, gems, meteorites, and fossils and over 50,000 shells and corals.

In 1983, the Collegian reported on plans to add more computer equipment to the library the following year. In 1983, there were 46 computer terminals or work stations in the building. The Collegian describes the computer facilities as follows:

The time-sharing computer system (similar to a party telephone line) currently located in Puryear Hall … and the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business was obtained for $35,000 in 1978, DuCharme said. [Robert DuCharme was director of academic computing at the time.] Unlike the time-sharing computer system the University currently has, the new systems would be able to work on their own power, with the ability to network into phone communication systems.

A second major expansion began in 1987. The architect for this work was Jeffrey Blanchard of the firm Marcellus, Wright, Cox and Smith. A total of 48,000 square feet was added to the library. The Lora Robins Gallery was expanded, requiring that Richmond Way be moved about 50 feet. The project included renovations to existing space. The library was rededicated on April 13, 1989.

In summer 1990, the library installed an online catalog including all materials located in Boatwright, as well as in the science, law, and music libraries. This allowed students and others to access the library catalog from computers anywhere on campus, including residence hall rooms.

In addition to the library collections, Boatwright Memorial Library houses the Media Resource Center, and the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology. The offices of the Dean of Arts and Sciences and of the Dean of the Graduate School, the Chancellor, International Education, and the Virginia Baptist Historical Society also occupy space in the building.

In recent years, the University has dedicated resources to renovating the library space to make it more usable and inviting. The library’s bound periodicals were moved to the north wing of the library. The Business Information Center was relocated to a prominent first floor location. The Science Library was moved from Gottwald Science Center to space in Boatwright Memorial Library. A Research Commons was created for students, allowing them easier access to information technology and encouraging collaborative work. Attractive new furniture and carpeting was installed. The patio outside the library was resurfaced, and tables, chairs and umbrellas were added. A new single service point was created and self service equipment was relocated to improve the flow and experience for library patrons. A new comfortable and well-lit reading room was created overlooking Weinstein Hall. A coffee shop was added in the library lobby area.


Alley, Reuben E. History of the University of Richmond, 1830-1971
UR website
VBHS building file
Collegian 1983

[1] At the same time, the University was conducting a Million Dollar Campaign to raise funds for other buildings and for general support.

[2] An article in the VBHS file claims that it took several months for anyone to notice that the carillon had stopped working.

[3] Boatwright had been president of the University for 51 years, the second longest university presidency in the U.S. up to that time (and perhaps since); hence the 50-year criterion for membership in the Society.