By Tim Jon
Solitude, peace, and quiet: Not exactly the first three adjectives I’d choose to describe the greater portion of downtown Leesburg, although its charms do shine through even on the busiest of weekday afternoons. The last morning I visited the grounds of Balch Library, on West Market Street, though, I enjoyed a sense of isolation in a beautifully-kept setting, amid – pretty much – total silence. I imagine that’s just about what to expect on any given Sunday dawn at that spot – and for me, the experience proves well worth the effort of rising before the chickens.
A short, quick, but relaxing stroll around the historic building can certainly provide a different outlook on your day than merely watching the morning news from your living room couch. The images of graceful architecture set amid a green lawn and surrounding trees, separated a respectable distance from the street by a shaded walkway, augmented by the friendly gurgle of the fountain in the west side reading garden create a sanctuary-like atmosphere, yet still exposed to whatever elements Mother Nature chooses to provide at that particular moment.
I’d been inside the actual structure quite a few times during my tenure as a resident in the County Seat – including some research – a few years back, now – in developing scenarios for some of the Town’s entertaining, August Court Trial events; the facility offers a surprising wealth of resources in local and personal history. The interior possesses its own visual charms, too: Images of local history grace the walls, the furnishings complement the surrounding architecture, and you’re sure to find a comfortable, quiet, well-lit spot to sit and read for a couple of hours. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the place crowded with visitors. The relaxed – and relaxing – atmosphere can certainly remove the stress brought on by the bypass or your boss.
And, in these days of instant information just a fingertip away on your electronic device, I find it absolutely refreshing that Leesburg maintains this library as a public resource, concentrating on Loudoun County and Virginia history and genealogy – where you can gain first-hand experience, in the flesh, with a real book, or map, or – get this – an actual human being. And – yes – I’m quite aware that Balch Library also offers a vast array of computerized information resources; I understand and appreciate that, but it’s not what attracts me to the place.
The structure itself dates back close to a hundred years, and the relatively recent addition takes nothing away from the original; it’s one-of-a-kind, dignified and charming – refreshing characteristics in a world of increasingly cookie-cutter construction. I find it a great place to dig into local lore – or to look up your family’s ancestry, or to attend a public event, or just to settle in with a favorite book and do some composed, yet inspired reading; and, if it’s a nice day, I may not even step inside. In a community which prides itself on sophisticated gentility and (whether it’s a battlefield, a family heirloom, a book or just a good story) the preservation of history, the Thomas Balch Library represents (for me) a place pretty close to the heart of what’s best about Loudoun County and the Town of Leesburg.
Grace, dignity and the unexpectedly casual: Those were my impressions as I toured the outside of the facility that warm, sunny morning; clean, white, flawless pillars offered the formality, and that spritzing fountain provided the sense of lively, playful, and reassuring engagement of simple, beneficent, elemental forces at hand. That level of subtle grandeur – quite difficult to achieve – makes it a unique place – in a community filled with beautiful, historic, cultural richness.
You probably won’t see me enjoying the atmosphere at Balch Library very often, though; I’m too busy slogging through my daily grinds in order to earn a living. Fortunately for me, the images and experiences permeate far enough, and stick tightly enough, to travel with me through the workaday world – and into the subconscious dreamtime of nocturnal slumber. Those architects and designers must have done something right.
Maybe I’ll see you – in my mind’s eye – as I make my conceptual visits to these places; whether by night or day. As Bob Dylan said, “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.”