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Must-see Tracy W. McGregor Library transports visitors to another era

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The Tracy W. McGregor Library may be one of several little known jewels in the crown of the generally resplendent University of Virginia. To be sure, the McGregor Library has made the UVA Bucket List, and who better to be in the know of the must-see, must-do activities in Charlottesville, than the youthful college undergrad whose oyster is still the world?

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While the UVA undergraduates, and their families, and perhaps even long-time staffers at the University know of this special room, Joe Public may still be unaware that the Tracy W. McGregor Library, is well-worth a walk-by, and even a sit-down, on the next trip through Charlottesville when visiting the University of Virginia.

The Tracy W. McGregor Library is a large, open room and a quiet, study or reading space of about 2,800 square feet located on the second floor, to the right of the main entrance of Alderman Library at UVA. Alderman Library is located just off the Lawn, within easy walking distance of the Rotunda and the UVA Chapel. After touring either the Lawn or the Rotunda, the Tracy W. McGregor Library would be a stellar space to sit, rest, and reflect on Thomas Jefferson, the man and the legend, founder of the University of Virginia, as well as a visionary Founding Father of the United States.

Such lofty thoughts and contemplations would be held nicely by the atmosphere and tenor of the Tracy W. McGregor Library. It is almost as if just walking into its splendor, the visitor themselves is transported to a higher realm. And as Jefferson himself believed coffee to be “the favorite drink of the civilized world,” take a page out of his 19th Century book by making stop at Greenberry’s Coffee Co., in the Alderman Library lobby to purchase some “civilization” before regaling your senses with the old world opulence and charm of the Tracy W. McGregor Library.

According a UVA library website, the Detroit philanthropist Tracy W. McGregor wanted his rare book and manuscript collections to live on after his death to serve the scholastic purposes of an institution of high ideals. In 1938, the Trustees of the McGregor Fund donated the collection to the University of Virginia, as well as donating funding to create a room in Alderman Library to house the collection. Thus, the Tracy W. McGregor Library was born.

The Tracy W. McGregor collection includes “about 5,000 volumes of rare books, a research collection of some 12,500 volumes, and a number of manuscripts,” with a focus on Southern Americana, New England literature and ultra-rare books (like Ptolemy's Cosmographia, printed in 1475), as well as “first-only” or “first-in-print” copies of significant world events ( for example, "the letter which first announced to Europe the results of Columbus' first voyage”). The Tracey W. McGregor Library served as a Special Collections reading and exhibition room until the late 1990s. In 2004 the collection moved to a new state-of-the-art facility, leaving the 2800 square foot McGregor Library available for repurposing.

According to a 2005 edition of Inside UVA, restoration of the Tracy W. McGregor Library began in the fall of 2004, with a goal to shift the Special Collections, museum-type atmosphere to one that better reflected lofty optimism and reverence for education as it existed in the early parts of the 20th Century. The walnut wood in the parquet floors, wall paneling and book cases were oiled and refinished, as were original wood tables. New, modern classic furniture purchased and the grandeur of the room lived once again.

According to the same article written by Jane Ford, many dignitaries either visited the Library upon completion or played a significant role in the McGregor Library’s creation:

The richly decorated room, which is nearly 2,800 square feet, includes paneled carvings of the University of Virginia seal above the entrance door, the McGregor bookplate above the lobby door and fluted pilasters. The renowned Philadelphia artist Samuel Yellin designed the wrought iron entrance gates, and London artist Frank O. Salisbury painted the portrait of McGregor that hangs over the fireplace. The University commissioned Detroit sculptor Marshall Fredericks to create the large bronze bas-relief plaque of McGregor that hangs at the entrance to the room. All these decorations contribute to the ambiance of the refurbished space…. Screen star Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark spent time in the McGregor Room on their visits to the University. W. H. Auden, Charles Wright, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Stephen Spender and Malcolm Cowley are among the writers and poets who have given lectures there.

Today, years later, this library space is still stunning and creates its own experiential effect on each visitor. Even if you can only stop by for ten minutes, the Tracy W. McGregor Library is a must-see for all history buffs, any fan of all things vintage, and every University of Virginia devotee. Keeping in mind that The McGregor Library is a silent study and reading space--meaning no talking allowed!--grab that beverage of civilization from Greenberry’s Coffee Co., in the front entrance lobby of Alderman, and quietly sip away a few moments in the remaining splendor of days of old.

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