Who Was Mary Riley Styles?
About Mary Riley Styles
This library was named for Mary Riley Styles, who was born on January 3, 1869. The eldest child of Joseph and Mary Pultz Riley, Mary and her four siblings grew up at Cherry Hill, the farmhouse which still stands on Park Avenue across from the library.
Mary Edwards Riley married Samuel Styles on June 8, 1892, and the couple had two children: daughter Elizabeth Morgan Styles, born July 3, 1893, and son Francis Holmes Styles, born December 15, 1895.
In his book Cherry Hill Farm, Tony Wrenn notes that all of the family members were avid readers. Elizabeth Styles recounted that “My mother used to tell about the great competition when it came to churning time. The family were the most inveterate readers you ever heard of in your life. That whole family read every book they could get their hands on. Everybody in the family read. And the girls were all willing to go down and do the churning, because they could take a book into the basement and it was nice and cool, especially in the summertime.”
As an adult, Mrs. Styles was active in Falls Church affairs and gave generously of her time and money for civic projects. She was a lover of books and a strong believer in the need for a public library. For over 25 years, she was chairwoman of the Library Committee of the Falls Church Woman’s Club, which managed and funded the library for many years before it was a City government facility.
Mrs. Styles & the Woman's Club Library Commitee
The library’s first collection of several hundred books was established in 1899 in a structure behind the home of George W. Hawxhurst at the northeast corner of North Washington and East Columbia Streets.
When Mrs. Styles directed the Library Committee of the Woman’s Club of Falls Church in 1919, the small library was located in the former Congregational Church Building, the building now known as Washington House, next door to the present-day State Theater.
It grew slowly. In 1924, the library, which contained about 2,000 volumes, was staffed by volunteers and was open only four hours a week, two hours on Tuesdays and two on Fridays. By 1931, a paid employee was hired to serve at the desk during open hours, and the Library Committee continued the work of policy making, ordering, accessioning, and cataloguing books.
By 1940, the Library had grown too large for the Woman’s Club Committee, and they made an outright gift of it to the Town of Falls Church. When Mrs. Styles retired in 1945 for health reasons, the Committee adopted a resolution recognizing “that the library is largely indebted to her loyalty and faithful service, through lean years and full, for its continued existence and expansion.” A fellow member of the Committee added, “Only those who served with Mrs. Styles can realize how her spirit kept the library going.”
Newspaper reports of the day describe Mrs. Styles’ extensive participation in civic groups. In addition to her work with the Library Committee, she chaired and hosted meetings focusing on a range of issues, from the problem of unemployment in Falls Church after the stock market crash of 1929, to aiding the Red Cross and promoting international understanding during World War II.
Land Donated for a Permanent Library Building
Mrs. Styles died in 1946. Her son, Francis, and daughter, Elizabeth, said that it was their mother’s intention that her estate should benefit Falls Church and the library.
In her honor, they gave a parcel of land that had been part of the original Riley farm to the City of Falls Church for the construction of the current library building.
Falls Church was one of the earliest communities in northern Virginia to plan a building specifically intended for use as a library. Groundbreaking took place in August 1957.
The new Library was completed and dedicated in 1958. Previously called the Falls Church Public Library, it was re-named the Mary Riley Styles Public Library in September 1977.
Renovated and expanded in 2020-2021, the library now houses an extensive collection of more than 100,000 items and serves roughly 28,000 cardholders. It is a truly integral part of the Falls Church community, a tribute to the hard work, foresight, and devotion of citizens like Mary Riley Styles, who worked tirelessly to sustain and develop it through its early decades.