Taking A Walk Through History


We recently spent some time with friends in Virginia.  While there we visited the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, VA.  We are big fans of historical restorations and have visited many of them.  The Frontier Culture Museum is different from any that I’ve been to.  It traces the routes of early America from where the settlers originated and then follows development through the nineteenth century.  There is an emphasis on sharing both the conditions that existed in the various locales as well as how the people from each location contributed to the growth and development of America.

The walk through history starts in the “old countries”.  One thing that makes this museum special is that the first origin is in Africa to document what home was like for those who were forced to come here.

Picture of an 18th century west African family house

This house is part of a walled family compound.  They’ve had some problems with the wall as the weather in that part of Virginia is quite different from Africa.  You can see some black plastic covering a part of the wall in need of repair.  The guide here was not in period costume.  She was very well informed and I learned plenty form her.  She was actually cooking time and place appropriate food on a small fire when we were there.  We found the same in several other locations.

From there we moved to an English farm from the seventeenth century.  The building looks to be a cross between ramshackle and sturdy.

Picture of an 18th Century English farm house

We learned that this house would have belonged to a reasonably successful person.  The unusual color is from some of the local building materials and pigments.  The room on the second floor with the window is the master bedroom.  It was a bit cramped to get a good shot, so I ended up taking three and stitching them together in my first pano.

Picture of the master bedroom in the 18th century English farm house

The English farm included some sheep, a pond with ducks and some other livestock.  From there, we followed the path to the Irish section.  First we cam onto the Irish Forge.  This is also an eighteenth century building.  the style of architecture and overall affluence are very different.

18th century Irish forge

This is a working forge.  Unfortunately the blacksmith was on a break when we got there.  I’ve long been fascinated by the way the old smiths worked and what it took to make things that we consider cheap and disposable.  Just up the path from the forge is the Irish farm house.  Again, this is typical of the conditions for most Irish farmers of the period.  This house consisted of just two rooms, one where the family lived, worked, ate, slept, etc. The other had a loom where they wove flax into cloth.

Inside the Irish farm house

Yes, I’ll admit it, I did “play” with some HDR on this shot.  The character interpreter in this house was very interesting.  He explained how a combination of weather and greedy landlords forced many an Irish farmer to come the “the colonies” out of economic need.  This farm had cows, pigs and sheep among other animals.

The final Old World farm was the German one.  This is another eighteenth century farm.  The farmers in this type of farm were again more affluent than those we saw in the Irish farm.  This house had several rooms.

The 18th century German farm house

The very friendly “hausfrau” explained how the inheritance laws in Germany resulted in many Germans needing to come here.  In those days, each of the heirs got and equal share of the farm.  After a couple of generations, that would divide a farm into parcels that were too small to support a family.  Notice the difference in the quality and style of furnishings here as opposed to the Irish farm.

We then, symbolically, crossed the Atlantic.  The first family settlement we came to was native American.  This settlement had suffered from weather and fire damage.  I was very disappointed with the shots I took there, so I’m not including any.  The representative there, while not in costume was very knowledgeable about the native Americans in that area and was directing the rebuilding efforts.

The first American-European exhibit was from the 1740s.  This log cabin reminded me of the Irish farm in terms of the simplicity and rustic nature.

1740s American log cabin

Another part of me also thinks of Abe Lincoln studying by the fire…yes I know he would have done that in Illinois.  Either way, this house looked to be strictly functional with few luxuries.  Notice, no windows!

The final exhibit was a grouping of three buildings, two farms from the mid nineteenth century and a school house.  These last two farm houses were much larger and showed how far people had come both technically and economically.

Picture of the 1820s farm house

This is the 1820s farm house.  We were told by the character interpreter that it was actually built in two parts.  Regardless, it is quite large and spacious. The rooms inside are larger and more open than the older farms.  The final farm is from the 1850s.  We did not see that much change in the thirty years between the two.  At that time, the women were still cooking over an open fire.

Picture of a woman cooking over a fire in the 1850s house

This lady was really cooking!  The food smelled very good.  I thought it interesting that with all the other advancements at these farms, they didn’t have a cooking stove.

This was a quicky preview of what there is to see.  It is far from all encompassing.

The museum has a very nice visitor’s center which includes an informative film describing the various exhibits.  There are numerous artifacts from the several periods on display in the visitor center.  For those who must have a souvenir, yes there is a gift shop too. The gift shop sells some of the best fudge you’ll ever eat.

The Frontier Culture Museum is one of those jewels that more people should know about.  They do a terrific job of showing where ALL Americans come from.  If you’re going anywhere near there you should seriously consider a visit.

Full disclosure… I have no interest, financial or otherwise in the Frontier Culture Museum.  I am not being paid to write this.  For that matter, they don’t know that I am writing this post about them!

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John Feist Photography

I am a photographer in central New Jersey. My photography covers a number of categories, mostly nature, street, travel and black & white. I initially set up this blog to document my efforts at becoming a professional photographer. Since then I've expanded it to discuss topics that I think are relevant to good photography and occasionally document my travels and photographic adventures. Please feel free to comment, constructively, on any of my posts. I'm always open to honest criticism of my post or photography.

6 thoughts on “Taking A Walk Through History”

  1. That sounds so interesting!! I’ve driven past Staunton many times and never knew it was hiding something so cool. OK, maybe they do have signs up for it but I guess I never thought about what the museum was like. Great post!

  2. Sounds like a fun day out, John, and some challenging photo opportunities. 🙂 I’d fit right in on that English farmhouse but I’m not much good with the practical stuff like milking cows. 🙂

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