Category Archives: State Records Blog Posts

- “Down in the shadow of the penitentiary:” the Closing of the Virginia Penitentiary


Photograph of Virginia Penitentiary, ca. 1991, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Warden Raymond M. Muncy, Box 481, Folder 2, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

On Friday, 24 February, a new historical highway marker will be unveiled at the site of the former Virginia Penitentiary at the intersection of Belvidere and Spring Streets in Richmond. The marker, sponsored by Richmond author Dale Brumfield, was approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources on 30 June 2016. The Penitentiary closed on 14 December 1990. The Ethyl Corporation, which purchased the 16-acre property for $5 million in December 1987, demolished the Penitentiary in 1991-1992 to build their corporate headquarters on the site. The records of the Virginia Penitentiary at the Library of Virginia document the closing and demolition of the buildings.


Photograph of Cell Block,  Virginia Penitentiary, ca. 1991, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Warden Raymond M. Muncy, Box 481, Folder 2, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

After the state sold the site to Ethyl, the plan was to close the Penitentiary on 1 July 1990. By that time, two new correctional facilities being built in Buchanan and Greensville counties would be finished and operational. Construction delays pushed back the openings of these new prisons and the closing of the Penitentiary was rescheduled for December 1990. In April 1990, A Building, the oldest prison building built in 1904, was closed and the prisoners relocated to B Building. A Building was in terrible condition: rusted cells, peeling paint, and pigeon droppings on the floor. B Building, built in 1939 and opened in 1942, wasn’t much better. A July 1990 inspection by the American Civil Liberties Union … read more »

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- Mug Shot Monday: Michael Bertone, No. 18654 and No. 21579


Photograph of Michael Bertone, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries B. General Correspondence, Superintendent Rice M. Youell, Box 419, Folder 5, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Michael Bertone, the subject of this week’s post, was a member of a gang of yeggmen who robbed the Sussex and Surry Bank in Wakefield in 1921.


Virginian Pilot, 8 February 1921, page 15.

Early on Sunday, 6 February 1921, four men entered the Sussex and Surry Bank in Wakefield through a window. At about 2 AM, an explosion blew off the door to the vault. The bank robbers looted approximately $30,000 worth of Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps from the safety deposit boxes. They left by the back door and drove off in a stolen car. The vehicle, along with $1,800 of Liberty Bonds, was recovered in Petersburg the next day. The police had no witnesses or suspects.

The first break in the case occurred in July 1921. Harry Young, James Powers, alias “Hooligan Joe,” John Hall alias “Jingle Jerry,” and Mike Benton alias Michael Bertone, were arrested near Clarksburg, West Virginia. The four were charged with attempted train robbery. The thieves had removed the switch lights in an attempt to wreck the train and rob the express car. In November 1921, United States Post Office inspectors connected the four to the Wakefield Bank robbery. During their January 1922 term, the Sussex County grand jury … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: Willie Williams, No. 17280


Photograph of Willie Williams, No. 17280, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 42, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday!  This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Willie Williams’, the subject of this week’s post, unruly behavior led a State Convict Road Force (SCRF) officer to shoot him in 1934.

Willie Williams was only 16 years old in August 1921 when he was convicted of housebreaking and sentenced to three years in the Virginia Penitentiary by the Richmond Circuit Court. Williams was then assigned to State Convict Road Force Camp 21. He was not a model prisoner. He was punished three times prior to his escape on 20 June 1923.


Letter from Sgt. M.C. Russell, dated 1 January 1934, to Superintendent R.M. Youell, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Box 527, Folder 6.

Williams was on the run for over nine years. After his recapture on 1 August 1932, Williams was assigned to SCRF Camp 15 in Wythe County where he continued to be disruptive. In 1933 alone he was disciplined three times for fighting with other prisoners and once for talking back to one of the guards. For each infraction his punishment was standing in cuffs for several hours. By the end of the year, SCRF Sgt. M.C. Russell had had enough. On 30 December 1933, Williams claimed he was sick and refused to work. A doctor’s examination found Williams fit and able to work. When informed of the doctor’s findings, Williams said “this was a hell of a … read more »

- Mug Shot Monday: William H. Oehlert, No. 11708 and 17831


Photograph of William Oehlert, No. 17831, Escaped Inmate Card, Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B. Photographs, Box 43, Accession 41558, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. William Oehlert had a lengthy criminal record, a history of escapes, a love of shooting guns, and was one of the worst behaved prisoners in the Virginia Penitentiary – until his incarceration finally broke him and he became a model prisoner.

William H. Oehlert, the son of German immigrants, was born on 21 July 1884 in Alexandria, Virginia. His father, August Oehlert (1851-1914) was a cigar maker and Alexandria’s police commissioner. Oehlert’s first known brush with the law occurred in January 1905, when he was arrested in Alexandria on suspicion of robbery. The case was dismissed but other arrests in Alexandria soon followed:

  • March 1905 – arrested on suspicion of robbing freight cars. Case dismissed due to lack of evidence.
  • January 1910 – arrested on suspicion of robbery. Case dismissed due to lack of evidence.
  • September 1911 – arrested for assault and fined $10 for creating a disturbance.
  • August 1912 – arrested for transporting stole goods. Charges dropped.
  • August 1912 – charged with stealing a spark coil from a Southern Railway Company freight car. Acquitted.
  • January 1913 – arrested for assaulting his brother-in-law A.E. Smoot and shooting a pistol in the street. Fined $10 for assault.

In October 1912, … read more »

- Electoral College Digital Collection Released


Certificates of Vote and Ascertainment for President and Vice President of the United States, 1948 December 13. Virginia. Secretary of the Commonwealth, Executive Papers, Box 1293, Folder 3, Accession 24938, State government records collection, The Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the release of the Electoral College Digital Collection. The Library has a variety of records scattered across several collections (Secretary of the Commonwealth, Office of the Governor, Virginia General Assembly, and State Board of Elections) related to the Virginia Electoral College from 1789 to 2012. The Electoral College Digital Collection brings all of this material together in one place and makes it accessible online.

As we all learned in our high school government class, the President and Vice President are officially elected by the Electoral College. Under this system, established by Article II and the 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution, voters in each state on Election Day are actually choosing a candidate’s slate of electors to serve in the Electoral College. Under Chapter 1 of Title 3, United States Code (62 Stat. 672, as amended), the Electoral College meets and votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. The 2016 Electoral College will meet on 19 December in the Virginia Capitol to cast Virginia’s 13 electoral votes for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

Some of the highlights of the collection include: the returns for the election of George Washington in 1789 (discovered by archivist Craig Moore when he processed the records of Governor Beverley Randolph); the Journal … read more »

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- Library Makes New Batch of Emails from Governor Timothy M. Kaine Administration Available Online


Senior Advisor to the Governor for Workforce Daniel LeBlanc (2006-2010)

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce the release of 10,441 emails from the administration of Governor Timothy M. Kaine (2006-2010). This latest batch comprises emails from individuals in the Office of the Senior Advisor to the Governor for Workforce. Included are the email boxes of Daniel LeBlanc, Gail Robinson, Brian Davis, Marietta Salyer, Beatrice Young, Sarah Abubaker, and Patrick Callahan. Since January 2014, the Library has made 156,188 emails from the Kaine administration freely available online to the public.

The primary responsibility of the Office of the Senior Advisor to the Governor for Workforce was the development and implementation of the Commonwealth’s first ever Strategic Plan for Workforce Development. The office also worked across secretariats to achieve consensus on a State Partner Memorandum of Understanding for Comprehensive One Stop Centers, a landmark directive for workforce service delivery in the Commonwealth signed in March 2008. This document clearly delineates the specific requirements of state agencies and programs towards the creation and support of a workforce development system that operates effectively in a one stop environment with a primary focus on serving citizens and employers in an efficient manner. For the complete picture, you will need to jump into the collection and start digging. The archived web site and Cabinet Weekly Reports of the Office of the Senior Advisor provide additional information on its activities.… read more »

- Dry Voters, Wet Drinkers: The Anniversary of Virginia’s Prohibition

Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the first day of Virginia’s state-wide prohibition. To see more about the build-up to the referendum that dried up Virginia, see yesterday’s blog post.

The drys won out on 22 September 1914. The Temperance cause heralded this as a “mighty victory.” And indeed, state-wide prohibition won out by almost 60% of the vote, with 94,251 votes in favor and 63,086 opposed. Interestingly, the total voter turnout of 158,000 was significantly higher than the total for the 1912 Presidential election, which had a turnout of 136,900. Out of 100 counties, 71 voted dry, as well as every city except for Alexandria, Norfolk, Williamsburg, and Richmond.

State-wide prohibition went into effect on 1 November 1916, heralded by church rallies where parishioners rang bells and shouted out “Hallelujah!” at midnight. Despite the new law, alcohol didn’t completely disappear from the Commonwealth. Of the six major breweries in Virginia at the time, only one—Portner’s of Alexandria—closed down immediately. Brewers and distillers were temporarily allowed to remain in business as long as they sold their products out of state. Several breweries attempted to establish themselves as sellers of soda or other non-alcoholic beverages, with limited success. In contrast, the Garret and Company winery, located near Norfolk since 1903, immediately closed down operations and relocated to New York and California.

Home … read more »

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- Settling the Liquor Question: The 1914 Referendum and Prohibition in Virginia

Talk about spooky! Although the 18th Amendment didn’t institute nation-wide prohibition in the U.S. until January 1920, Virginia banned alcohol at the stroke of midnight on Halloween in 1916. Virginia went dry as the result of a 1914 state-wide referendum, setting off a legislative process that culminated in the passage of the Mapp Law, which went into effect on 1 November 1916, forbidding Virginians from producing or selling—but not consuming—alcoholic beverages.

Though alcoholic consumption was commonplace in Virginia during its earliest days—especially since it was often safer than the water!—as the 19th century progressed, more and more segments of the population began to speak out against the evils of alcohol and overindulgence. The rise of the Temperance movement brought men and women alike to advocate personal policies of temperance or abstinence. Organizations like the Sons of Temperance, the Anti-Saloon League, or the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which opened its first Virginia chapter in 1882, sought to fill their membership rosters.

Early temperance organizations in the South initially had a hard time recruiting due to their association with abolitionist movements and the ‘northern invaders’ of the Civil War. Ongoing fears of African-American voters and their potential political power birthed fears of third parties and single-issue voters who could divide support for the existing parties that propped up white supremacy. In Virginia, the problem … read more »

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- 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)? Governor Tim Kaine’s YouTube Channel Videos Released

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce a new digital collection:  Governor Tim Kaine’s YouTube Channel Videos, 2008-2010. Accessible as a playlist from the Library’s YouTube channel, this collection consists of 63 videos uploaded by the Kaine administration for events occurring between March 2008 and January 2010. The Kaine administration created a dedicated YouTube channel for the Office of the Governor in March 2008. Included are videos of news conferences, transportation town hall meetings, cabinet day events, the 2008 dedication of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, Governor Kaine’s statement on granting clemency to the Norfolk Four, and Governor Kaine’s 2009 State of the Commonwealth address.

The Kaine YouTube Channel Video collection is the latest release of records from Virginia’s 70th governor. Click here for a comprehensive list of records from the Kaine administration open to researchers.

-Roger Christman, LVA Senior State Records Archivist… read more »

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- Man at the Top: The Kaine Administration Cabinet Week Reports Collection


Kaine Cabinet Weekly Reports, 2009-07-31, Secretary of Natural Resources (2009-07-30), page one, Timothy M. Kaine Administration (2006-2010) Cabinet Weekly Reports Digital Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce a new digital collection:  the Kaine Administration Cabinet Weekly Reports Collection (2006-2009). Accessible through Digitool (and linked to from the “Related Content” section of the Kaine Email Project @ LVA page), this collection consists of weekly reports submitted to Governor Tim Kaine by the governor’s cabinet members, advisors, policy, press, and constituent services offices, and the Virginia Liaison Office. Reports were submitted each Thursday and placed in a binder for the governor that he took with him at the end of the day on Friday. While the level of detail varies, each report contains information on legislation, Governor’s initiatives and special projects, agency matters and operations, events and agency visits, audits or investigations, stakeholder issues, and pending decisions. This collection, which is full-text searchable, provides a weekly account of the issues and policy decisions of the Kaine Administration.

The weekly reports address a wide variety of issues and topics including:  avian flu, state budgets, the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), renovations of the Capitol, creation of a Civil Rights Memorial, early childhood education, planning for the 2008 presidential election and the January 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, land conservation, minority procurement, transportation, federal recognition of Virginia’s Native American tribes, IT issues, and workforce development.


Kaine Cabinet Weekly Reports, 2009-08-07, Secretary of Natural Resources (2009-08-06), page one, Timothy M. Kaine Administration (2006-2010) Cabinet Weekly Reports Digital Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

Governor Kaine often … read more »