The McGregor Library at U.Va.

Tracy W. McGregor, Letter to Harry Clemons, 18 March 1936. (RG 12/1/1.681)

In 1936 McGregor explored the idea of relocating from Washington, D.C., to Charlottesville. In this endeavor he enlisted the aid of a man he barely knew—University of Virginia Librarian Harry Clemons—who helped arrange a twelve-day visit in April that included library visits and extensive talks with Clemons and his staff. Though McGregor never revealed his intentions, Clemons, University President John Lloyd Newcomb, and others believed that McGregor had decided to place his magnificent book collection at the University, where the new Alderman Library building was under construction.

Dumas Malone, Memorandum, 18 June 1936. (RG 12/1/1.681)

Tracy W. McGregor died unexpectedly on May 6, 1936, only three weeks following his Charlottesville visit, and before he could finalize plans for his library. Knowing that time was of the essence, Harry Clemons collected statements from staff who had discussed the matter with McGregor, hoping to demonstrate that the University of Virginia was McGregor’s clear choice for the library’s permanent home. Perhaps the last person to consult with McGregor was Jefferson scholar Dumas Malone, whose memorandum of their May 2, 1936, conversation succinctly outlines McGregor’s wishes for his cherished library.

John Lloyd Newcomb, “Dedication of the Alderman Library,” from University of Virginia Alumni News, v. 26, no. 10 ([August] 1938)  (LH1 .V6 A5)

Pressed unexpectedly into service as Tracy W. McGregor’s executors, McGregor Fund trustees found themselves responsible for an immensely valuable rare book collection about which they knew little, other than that it was to be given to a deserving Southern university. The University of Virginia was but one of several universities carefully considered by the McGregor Fund during a two-year review. Thanks to heroic efforts by Harry Clemons and John Lloyd Newcomb, a deed of gift was negotiated and signed just in time to be announced at the June 13, 1938, dedication of Alderman Library.

“McGregor Room in Library is Dedicated,” in University of Virginia Alumni News, v. 27, no. 8 (May 1939)  (LH1 .V6 A5)

To its magnificent gift of the McGregor Library, the McGregor Fund added $25,000 for a suitable room to house the collection. The Rare Book Department’s spartan Alderman Library quarters were immediately converted into the elegant McGregor Room. Outfitted with grill-front walnut bookcases, comfortable seating, a working fireplace, and an adjacent 500-square foot vault, the McGregor Room was dedicated on Tracy W. McGregor’s 70th birthday, April 14, 1939. It served as the rare book reading, exhibition, and function room until 2005 when, with McGregor Fund support, it was renovated and repurposed as a study space.

A Selection of McGregor Library Publications

In 1941, under the direction of curator John Cook Wyllie, the McGregor Library initiated an ambitious publication series now numbering over thirty titles—not including the many Special Collections exhibition catalogs that have featured McGregor items. The publications and facsimile reprints have made some of the McGregor Library’s rarest and most significant works more widely accessible. Their subject matter includes early Virginia maps, Bacon’s Rebellion, early accounts of Virginia and the Carolinas, Cotton Mather, the American Revolution, early American libraries and reading, American presidents (especially Thomas Jefferson), and African Americans.

Keepsake of the McGregor Library 25th Anniversary Dinner, 10 April 1964.

James A. Bear, Jr., Jefferson’s advice to his children and grandchildren on their reading. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1967.  (E332.25 .B36 1967)

In 1964 the McGregor Library celebrated its 25th anniversary with a symposium on the theme of “Presidents and Their Reading.” The papers—all subsequently published—included The Books of James Madison by Madison biographer Irving Brant; The Reading of the Presidents by Francis Brown, editor of the New York Times Book Review; and Jefferson’s advice to his children and grandchildren on their reading by Monticello curator James A. Bear, Jr. The symposium concluded with a celebratory dinner at Monticello.