iSchool Alumna Discovering Civil War History in Virginia

HeadshotBefore moving to Winchester, Virginia, Trish Ridgeway was a reference librarian and bibliographic instruction specialist in academic libraries. Upon moving to Winchester, Trish was named the Director of the Handley Library where she worked tirelessly until her retirement in 2013. Some of her accomplishments include tripling the library’s endowment, building two new branches, and updating computer systems. At the time of her retirement, the library was celebrating its 100th anniversary by publishing a book that was awarded a silver medal in regional publishing by the Independent Book Publishing Awards. You would think after a career as rewarding as that, Trish would be eagerly awaiting a relaxing retirement.

Well, as they say, education never ends. And for Trish that rang true. During her retirement, she became a docent in the Old Court House Civil War Museum located in Winchester’s historic Frederick County Courthouse. She took a particular interest in Judge Richard Parker, the man who sentenced John Brown to death by hanging in 1859. John Brown was an important abolitionist in his time, and many say that his raid of the Harpers Ferry Arsenal was a precipitating event leading to the Civil War.

When she started working at the library, Trish could tell visitors that “Parker lived in Winchester, frequently presided the courtroom, and was the judge at John Brown’s trial and nothing more. Being a retired librarian, I could not resist the challenge,” she explains. So off she went on a journey to learn as much as she could about Judge Richard Parker.

A common source used in this topic of study is a historical society journal article written in 1953, but it offers little insight as to the sources of its information. This is where the quest really began. Trish discovered repositories for documents about Parker in both Virginia and West Virginia. She also found materials all the way from Chicago to California, Connecticut, and online.

“Although my original intention was to find more information to relate to museum visitors, I realized that all these documents should part of a documentary history,” Trish explains. She has been transcribing handwritten documents ever since and writing introductory and background material to create a book about Parker’s full life.

On top of her work in the Civil War Museum, Trish also volunteers at the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum, also in Winchester. She opened this museum in 2003 with her husband Harry and 3,000 of his Civil War relics. In 2016, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation took over the museum and Trish stayed on to help create a library and archive. To this day, Trish chairs a volunteer committee that is creating and organizing an inventory for the library. If you’re looking for her, you can probably find her under mountains of donated manuscripts and documents.