As we head into 2023, I’d like to offer a few words on change and the power of community.
I hope many in this community have had the opportunity to visit and enjoy the Richard S. Gillis, Jr. Ashland Branch Library. My family and I certainly have over the years and still do. If you're newer to town or haven't had occasion to stop by, the library sits downtown on the tracks at 201 South Railroad Avenue.
This past year marked the 25th anniversary of that library’s new beginning after it jumped over the tracks from the west side to the east. The former library entrance door now welcomes customers into Changing Reins.
The current location sprang from what was a large parking lot stretching from Robinson Street to Lee Street; a parking lot that dutifully offered up some of those spaces for a new library, but only after more than 30,000 books crossed over Center Street and the double railroad tracks.
It took a single day in November 1997. Ashland Police Officers guided traffic and watched for trains as Ashland community members, young and old, aided by Randolph-Macon College President Roger Martin, R-MC students, businesspeople, Town officials, and others volunteered as a "book-brigade." All stood shoulder-to-shoulder and passed books from hand to hand to hand until every book was safely ferried over and into the new building.
That "new" library is now 25 years old! Surely thousands of lives have been enriched through the education, inspiration, and wonder of those many books, the expanded space for a children's area and multimedia opportunities, and, of course, the help of the wonderful library staff. I believe it was a good move for Ashland. However, I know some met friends and made memories in that west side library and as a result, had great affection for it. I’ve also heard critique over the years on the lost parking space, citing commerce as a concern.
As a long-time Ashland resident and most especially, as your Mayor over the last few years, I've learned that Town decisions will rarely be embraced by everyone. But I also feel a deep responsibility that I know is shared by my fellow Councilmembers that all our decisions must be thoughtfully made.
I am deeply proud to serve this community. Of your loyalty to one another and to the Center of the Universe. Of your commitment to preserving the good and pursuing new opportunities to make it even better. Of your willingness to speak up, share your thoughts and concerns, and serve. Because positive change comes only when details are weighed diligently, a multitude of voices are heard, and the consensus is sought above all else.
In 2023 and beyond, as we encounter opportunities for change that are both embraced and rejected, may we remember and embody the spirit of Ashland as described in the Richmond-Times Dispatch by resident Dick Shirey, a volunteer from that ’97 book shuffle, “When you are part of a community like this, everybody helps everybody. We have a unique group of people that care about each other and will help each other.”
I believe Mr. Shirey summed it up very well! My hope for Ashland in the New Year is that we are always a community that helps, a community that cares enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and hand-in-hand to meet the challenges and opportunities in our future with love, compassion, and courage.
Cheers to the Center of the Universe, and a Happy New Year to all!
Steve Trivett, Mayor