"In the Beginning, all America was Virginia."
William Byrd II
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History of Battle Abbey

The neoclassical structure that houses the library and headquarters of the Virginia Historical Society was built in six stages between 1912 and 2006.

Battle Abbey 1912 CornerstoneBuilding Battle Abbey

The first part, completed in 1913, was built by the Confederate Memorial Association as a shrine to the Confederate dead and as a repository for the records of the Lost Cause. The association's driving force, Charles Broadway Rouss, was a Virginia veteran of the Confederate army who later made his fortune in New York. Rouss contributed $100,000, one half of the sum needed for the construction of the building: the remainder came in small contributions from veteran's camps, school children, and ladies' organizations throughout the South.

One fund raising effort in 1897, a piece of sheet music entitled The Broadway Rouss Two-Step, "sold for the benefit of the Battle Abbey of the South," so captured the public's imagination that the building became popularly known as "Battle Abbey" and has remained so ever since. Officially the building was designated  the Confederate Memorial Institute, but the name was seldom used even by those closest to the association.

Facts about Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey has neoclassical architecture.

Battle Abbey was built in six stages between 1912 and 2006.

Battle Abbey is nearly 200,000 square feet.

Battle Abbey sits on land donated by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Battle Abbey was designed by the Philadelphia firm of Bissell and Sinkler.

Inside Battle Abbey

The first portion of the building, including the marble entrance hall and two flanking monumental galleries, was designed by the Philadelphia firm of Bissell and Sinkler and was constructed on land donated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. One of its most striking features is the series of heroic murals, "The Four Seasons of the Confederacy," by French artist Charles Hoffbauer. Also of interest are the seals of the eleven Confederate states, located beneath the cornice in the front entrance hall, done in bas-relief with gold-leaf accent.

In 1921 the first addition to Battle Abbey was completed, a nobly proportioned "Memorial Hall" built to house the archives and the extensive portrait collection donated to the Confederate Memorial Institute by its next-door neighbor, the R. E. Lee Camp, No. I, Confederate Veterans.

VHS moves in

Twenty-five years later, in 1946, the Confederate Memorial Association merged with the Virginia Historical Society. Through this merger, the VHS acquired Battle Abbey, which it maintained as a separate exhibition building until 1959, when the large, four-story west addition was completed, enabling the institution to move its offices, book and manuscript stacks, processing areas, and reading room into the Battle Abbey building.

Since moving to Battle Abbey, the VHS continued to enlarge its collections. As a result, additional space was needed, and building expansions in 1992, 1998, and 2006 greatly increased the size of the headquarters building to nearly 200,000 square feet. These changes enabled the VHS to become the Center for Virginia History and offer citizens of the commonwealth a research library, museum exhibitions, and numerous educational programs.

Cornerstone box

1912 Cornerstone box from Battle AbbeyOn May 20, 1912, a crowd gathered to watch as officials of the Confederate Memorial Association celebrated the laying of the cornerstone of Battle Abbey. The first photograph in the slideshow below shows the stone after it was put in place. A carved niche in the cornerstone contained a time capsule in a copper box. On April 18, 2012, Paul Levengood, VHS President and CEO, removed the one-hundred-year-old time capsule from the cornerstone (shown in slideshow). The box (shown at right) was stuffed to the lid with more than 100 items, including newspapers, postcards, Confederate army documents and currency, and materials relating to the Confederate Memorial Institute.

Learn about the history of the Virginia Historical Society here.

Laying the cornerstone of Battle Abbey Enter Fullscreen More information
Laying the cornerstone of Battle Abbey
The ceremony celebrating the laying of the cornerstone of Battle Abbey took place on 20 May 1912. Photo by Walter Washington Foster. (Virginia Historical Society, 1991.1.20675)
Building the Confederate Memorial Institute Enter Fullscreen More information
Building the Confederate Memorial Institute
This photograph of the Confederate Memorial Institute, known informally as Battle Abbey, was taken on 8 January 1913, almost exactly one year after the groundbreaking ceremony took place. The structure was designed by the Philadelphia firm of Bissell & Sinkler. (Virginia Historical Society, 2010.1.65)
Completed Battle Abbey Enter Fullscreen More information
Completed Battle Abbey
Battle Abbey was built as the home of the Confederate Memorial Association. Photo by Walter Washington Foster. (Virginia Historical Society, 1991.1. 20537)
Moving to Battle Abbey Enter Fullscreen More information
Moving to Battle Abbey
The society's collections arrived at Battle Abbey in 1959. Previously the society occupied a house on Franklin Street near Capitol Square in which Robert E. Lee's family lived during part of the Civil War. (Virginia Historical Society, 2007.5.68)
VHS floorplan Enter Fullscreen More information
Building of VHS
The neoclassical structure that houses the library and headquarters of the Virginia Historical Society was built in six stages between 1912 and 2006.
Battle Abbey 1912 Cornerstone Enter Fullscreen More information
Battle Abbey 1912 Cornerstone
Battle Abbey 1912 cornerstone as seen on the outside of the building.
The Confederate Memorial Institute Enter Fullscreen More information
The Confederate Memorial Institute
The Confederate Memorial Institute was the official name of what is commonly called Battle Abbey.
Paul Levengood removes 1912 cornerstone box Enter Fullscreen More information
Paul Levengood removes 1912 cornerstone box
On April 18, 2012, Paul Levengood, VHS President and CEO, removed the one-hundred-year-old time capsule from the cornerstone of Battle Abbey.
Laying the cornerstone of Battle Abbey
Laying the cornerstone of Battle Abbey
Building the Confederate Memorial Institute
Building the Confederate Memorial Institut
Completed Battle Abbey
Completed Battle Abbey
Moving to Battle Abbey
Moving to Battle Abbey
VHS floorplan
Building of VHS
Battle Abbey 1912 Cornerstone
Battle Abbey 1912 Cornerstone
The Confederate Memorial Institute
The Confederate Memorial Institute
Paul Levengood removes 1912 cornerstone box
Paul Levengood removes 1912 cornerstone bo

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