The neoclassical structure that houses the library and headquarters of the Virginia Historical Society
was built in six stages over a period of years from 1912 to 2006.
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 veterans' 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.
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 the French artist Charles Hoffbauer. Also of interest are the seals of the
eleven Confederate states, located beneath the comice 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.
Twenty-five years later, in 1946, the Confederate Memorial Association merged with the Virginia
Historical Society. Through this merger, the Historical Society 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
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.