The library was founded in 1899 with financial support from the Falls Church Village Improvement Society (VPIS), which amassed several hundred books for circulation to community subscribers from a structure behind the home of George W. Hawxhurst at the northeast corner of North Washington and East Columbia Streets. In 1913, the collection was transferred from VPIS to the Falls Church Civic League (known later as the Falls Church Woman's Club) and continued to operate out of different locations throughout Falls Church until the late 1950s.
The Town of Falls Church first officially began supporting the library in 1928 and assumed full responsibility for the library in 1940. After becoming an independent City in 1948, the City of Falls Church established a formal library board in 1954 and ultimately funded construction of a new library building on land donated by the children of Mary Riley Styles, the longtime chairwoman of the Library Committee of the Woman’s Club who passed away in 1946.
The new building opened in 1958 and has since been renovated and expanded three times: 1969, 1993, and most recently 2021. Previously known as the Falls Church Public Library, it was re-named the Mary Riley Styles Public Library in 1977.
Today, the library continues to serve the City of Falls Church’s roughly 15,000 residents, as well as library users throughout the Metro DC area.
Each month during our 125th Anniversary Celebration (January - December 2024) we'll post a new decade highlighting key events from the library's history. So check back here regularly!
Outbuilding of Hawxhurst Property in 1903 (courtesy The Washington Times)
1899 & 1900s
1899 -- The Falls Church Library is founded as a private subscription library with financial support from the Village Improvement Society. Many libraries in the United States were established by men’s clubs, but this society was not restricted by gender.
1900 – The library is housed in a small outbuilding on the property of Falls Church mayor George W. Hawxhurst. Hawxhurst acts as librarian with the assistance of his daughter, Nellie. The library is managed by a Library Association with a Board of Control.
1906 – Hawxhurst becomes the town postmaster and the library moves to the back of the Falls Church Post Office. This is the first of what will be many moves for the library.
1913 - A local women's organization, the Civic League, takes over library operations, working from an alcove in the former Congregational Church building at 222 North Washington Street.
1915 - Black leaders form the Colored Citizens Protective League and sue to prevent a racially restrictive zoning ordinance from being enacted. Existing segregation in the community makes it unlikely that Black community members access the library during these years.
1916 - The Civic League becomes the Falls Church Woman's Club. This group of unpaid, White women volunteers will sustain the library for decades. During these early years, the library moves to several different locations around Falls Church. One of the buildings is unheated except for a fireplace: "The frugal ladies, preferring to spend their funds for books rather than for firewood, decide that each member should bring one or two sticks of wood." - History of the Falls Church Library 1899-1950, Lucina M. Bethune
1919 - The library moves back to the former Congregational Church building. Mary Riley Styles becomes Chairperson of the Library Committee of the Woman’s Club.
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