In the early 1980s, Mary Helen Gravitt went looking for a coffin. Gravitt, then a secretary at Virgilina Elementary School, was looking for a Halloween decoration in an old store building but stumbled upon a piece of Virgilina’s history. So began the strange turn of events that led to the town of Virgilina’s first town council minute book’s arrival at the Library of Virginia where it will be preserved, reformatted, and stored for posterity.
Recognizing the significance of Gravitt’s find, teacher Hallie T. Owen studied the book and published an article in the South Boston News and Record back in February 1983. Owen wrote in celebration of Virgilina’s 83rd birthday and described the town’s ordinances and regulations which ranged from the prohibition of playing marbles in town streets to allowing bar partitions that separated white and African American customers. Not knowing what to do with the volume but recognizing its importance, Mary Helen Gravitt held onto the book for the next thirty years.
At the chance request of a South Boston history buff, Owen’s 1983 article was reprinted in February of this year and spotted by the mother-in-law of one our archivists. Local Records director Carl Childs followed up on the article and with the help of Hallie Owen was able to track down the whereabouts of the minute book and persuade the town to donate the volume to the library. Childs emphasized that “we are not hoarders” here at the Library of Virginia and that our goal is to see that historic public records are preserved and made accessible. The Library of Virginia will microfilm the Virgilina town council minute book and ensure that the public has ready access to the reformatted records.