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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!