History in the Making

Collection materials at the Thomas Balch Library, including books, oral histories, periodicals, maps, visual collections, newspapers, and manuscripts provide researchers, students and the purely curious an opportunity to study and understand the history of Loudoun businesses, communities, individuals and families, local government and public leaders, and organizations in Leesburg and Northern Virginia. The library’s collections open doors to understanding not only the local arena but also that of the greater Commonwealth and the United States and provide an entrée to the world. Public records and private papers, including oral histories, in the library reveal personal and public experiences and reflect cultural, economic, political, religious and social values of the community.  To visit an historical and genealogical research library enables one to put a human face on history – to know the past is to better understand the present – and through shared knowledge work together for a better future.

Oral history holdings at Thomas Balch Library provide a remarkable view of a far-reaching cross section of the Leesburg-Loudoun community.  They include professional, student, and family conducted interviews of local people from all walks of life dating from the 1970’s. There are five major oral history collections at Thomas Balch Library, not including the newly created Loudoun Laurels Oral History Collection: Black History Committee of Friends of Thomas Balch Library, Inc.; Loudoun County Oral History Project conducted by local historians and authors; Student Oral History Collection interviews conducted by middle and high school students under the guidance of classroom instructors; a Thomas Balch Library Collection comprised of oral histories conducted by library staff and volunteers; and Loudoun’s Quilt of Faith, a project being conducted by a community volunteer in conjunction with the America’s Quilt of Faith project.

In 2008 Inova Loudoun Hospital approached the Library with a cooperative proposition to become the archival repository for a new oral history series, the Loudoun Laurels Oral History Collection. With a Loudoun Laurels founders grant of $10,000 the library has been able to continue recording and maintaining documentation of a wide cross section of Loudoun County residents. The Loudoun Laurels annually recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations that make Loudoun County an exceptional place in which to live and work. As part of this remarkable recognition program, Loudoun Laurels records audio-visual oral histories of the lives of each year’s honorees. These recordings are available for use in the Loudoun Laurels Oral History Collection at Thomas Balch Library.

This partnership has enabled Thomas Balch Library to undertake a project to capture the flavor of Leesburg’s history.  At the recommendation of Kaj Dentler, Town Manager, the library has created a presentation about the history of Leesburg to be used for training, education and tourism.  The Loudoun Laurels program enabled the library to hire a student filmmaker to create this documentary about the town’s history, including freshly conducted oral history interviews with local citizens and former political figures. This enabled the library to capture the visionary outlook many residents have for their community.  It has created an exciting opportunity for the library to enhance the its oral history holdings as well as create a high quality video program about Leesburg’s long and interesting history.

The Thomas Balch Library is a history and genealogy library owned and operated by the Town Of Leesburg.  Collections focus on Loudoun County, regional and Virginia history, genealogy, ethnic history and military history with special emphasis on the American Civil War.  The library is a designated Underground Railroad research site.