New History Exhibit Now Open

If you’ve ever received a free tote bag or key chain carrying a business logo, you are familiar with promotional novelties. If you’ve ever wondered who thought of putting company logos on serving plates and salad tongs, you’ll want to join us to view the upcoming exhibit at the Montgomery Museum. You’ll see rare glimpses of long-closed businesses, view quirky novelties, and be amazed at the large assortment of goods carrying local logos!

The first promotional novelties in the United States were buttons created to commemorate the inauguration of George Washington in 1789. By the late 1800s, enterprising businessmen in Coshocton, Ohio had launched a new industry that offered advertising on everything from burlap book bags to fly swatters, yardsticks, and metal souvenir trays.

 The incredible (and continuing) success of non-paper advertising was based on visibility and loyalty. When placed on a utilitarian object, the ad remained in view of both the piece’s owner as well as anyone the owner came in contact with while using the item. The “free gift” nature of the novelties created a sense of loyalty and obligation towards the business.

Visit the Montgomery Museum’s new exhibit to see an abundance of useful goods and clever novelties that were offered to encourage new business and retain customers. Owners of large stores in Christiansburg and small general store owners in communities like Riner, Ironto, and Cambria all gave away items emblazoned with their business name.

The exhibited items highlight past businesses and illustrate how we once shopped. We hope you will join us.

Museum Minute

Visit our Facebook page to learn interesting snippets about Montgomery County history. Our new “Museum Minute” video tours have been entertaining to learn to produce to say the least! These short videos feature museum staff introducing you to some of the items on display in the museum exhibits.

Museum Minute 1.0 – Spirit of Progress: Women in the 1920s

The Montgomery Museum's curator gives a short tour of the Spirit of Progress exhibit looking at the changes for women during the 1920s in Montgomery County, Virginia.

Posted by Montgomery Museum of Art & History on Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Museum Minute 1.1 – Spirit of Progress: Transportation in the 1920s

The Montgomery Museum's curator gives a short tour of the Spirit of Progress exhibit looking at how changes in transportation effected businesses during the 1920s in Montgomery County, Virginia.

Posted by Montgomery Museum of Art & History on Monday, April 13, 2020
Museum Minute 1.2 – 1920s: Music, Entertainment, and Racial Inequality

The Montgomery Museum's curator gives a short tour of the Spirit of Progress exhibit discussing various types of entertainment available during the 1920s in Montgomery County, Virginia. Places of entertainment were one of many areas where the severe racial inequality and segregation of this period can be found.

Posted by Montgomery Museum of Art & History on Monday, April 20, 2020
Museum Minute 1.3: Traveling Shows in Montgomery County, VA

Montgomery Museum of Art & History curator will discuss the variety of traveling shows that regularly came to Montgomery County during the 19th century and give insight into how exhibits at the museum are selected.

Posted by Montgomery Museum of Art & History on Monday, April 27, 2020

Blacksburg High School Art Show 2020 – digital version

While the Montgomery Museum will be closed at least through the remainder of March, we felt it was important to make the interesting work currently on exhibit in the Blacksburg High School Art Show available. These images are to be enjoyed online – use of them without express permission from the artists is prohibited.

h’ARTS on Main Returns!

The 3rd annual h’ARTS on Main fundraiser is fast approaching and we hope you can join us!

Held at the Great Road on Main,  local artists and artisans, will display and sell their work. Anywhere from jewelry designers, fiber artists, portraitists, and photographers, you will see a lot of what this community values in art and artistry. Plus, there’s so much more!

The beautiful Appalaccia Winery will be there to serve Italian-style vintages, and CrossPointe Catering will also have a booth to serve snacks and drinks.

The silent auction begins Friday at 1, and closes on Saturday at 4 (to benefit the Montgomery Museum of Art and History.) From 4-4:30, we’ll announce the winners. If you can’t be there, DON’T WORRY. You can pick up your items at the Montgomery Museum the following week. The items this year are fantastic! Don’t miss this!

If you like to work in art, we are also hosting FREE hour-long art instructional classes for the Young at h’ART (ages 7 and up) which will be held on Saturday. (Many thanks to the Blacksburg Regional Art Association, for sponsoring these classes!) Claim your spot while you can, as spaces are limited: h’ARTS on Main

You’ll also be interested in listening to our local musicians, who will play throughout the day, Saturday. Find out more.

Can’t wait to see you there!

Quilt Appraisal Event

The Montgomery Museum is pleased to host quilter, quilt lover, and quilt expert Bunnie Jordan.
 
An appraiser accredited through the American Society of Appraisers and a contributing author to several books, including Quilters Hall of Fame, Virginia Quilts, and Southern Quilts, we are fortunate to be able to offer this opportunity to the community and hope you will take advantage of this time with Bunnie.
 
Date: November 13, 2019
Location: @ the Museum, 300 S. Pepper St., Christiansburg, VA
Time: Appointment Times are Available between 10:30-2:00pm. Please contact the museum to make an appointment now.
Cost: A verbal appraisal will be $25 and a written appraisal will be $55. 

Going to School: a Montgomery County history

The newly opened exhibit at the Montgomery Museum of Art & History explores the long history of schools in Montgomery County. A collection of objects and photographs illustrates the many challenges in providing education to children prior to 1940. Of special interest, is the School Census map on display. This map enumerates the number of children served by the county’s schools in 1940, where the children lived, and shows the locations of the schools and school districts. Photographs of many of the 59 schools in service in 1940 have been added to the map.

Playgrounds, or even grassed schoolyards, were uncommon before 1950. Community groups often raised money to buy playground equipment. Here children at Ellett School are playing games in about 1950. (D. D. Lester Collection, Montgomery Museum)

Early in the county’s history, children were educated at home with the first schools being established by local churches during the 1820s. By the 1850s, academies for both young women and young men were established at Christiansburg and Blacksburg. It was not until 1870, that Montgomery County organized its first public school. The legislation that created the state’s first public school system in 1870 also codified the requirement for separate schools for white and black students.

The number of schools in Montgomery County grew gradually after the inception of the public school system in Virginia in 1870 to peak during the late ninteenth century when one-room schools were dotted throughout the county. School consolidation begin in the 1910s and by the early 1960s, buses carried students to only a few schools.

Few schools serving either race in Montgomery County could have been considered well funded during the nineteenth or early twentieth century. Local residents often provided supplemental funding for special programs, playgrounds, and new buildings or additions. In the case of the rural African American schools at Wake Forest, Pine Woods (or Piney Woods), Shawsville, and Elliston, the funding for new buildings came not only from local residents, but from the Julius Rosenwald fund. This fund was established by philanthropist Julius Rosenwald (president of Sears, Roebuck, & Co.) in 1917 to help provide appropriate school buildings for African American children. The fund, encouraged by Booker T. Washington and supported by specialists at Tuskegee Institute, helped local communities across the South build the best possible schools. It is estimated that one-third of the African American children in the region were served by Rosenwald Schools by 1928.  For more information about Montgomery County’s Rosenwald Schools, visit Fisk University’s Rosenwald Database.

The minutes of the October 5, 1929 Montgomery County School Board meeting illustrate how basic schools in Montgomery County were during the early twentieth century. A request to add water coolers to the county’s schools was denied; instead members stated that “a bucket and dipper will be furnished.” Indoor plumbing was rare in the county’s schools. Students often traveled several miles on foot or on horseback to the nearest schoolhouse. They carried pails packed with food because few schools had lunchrooms or cafeterias prior to the 1950s.

Gradually, one-room schools were replaced during the early 1900s with two, three, or four room schools. As roads and automobiles improved during the 1920-1950 period, the pace and scale of this school consolidation increased. During the 1950s and 1960s, many of these small rural schools closed.

Books for All: a brief history of libraries in Montgomery County

The earliest libraries in Montgomery County were created by church Sunday Schools, clubs or societies, or even private individuals. In Christiansburg, for example, girls attending the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church Sunday School class taught by Miss Emaline Miller (later Emaline Craig) in 1833 were able to check out books from the “lybrary.” This library may have belonged to the Miller family since the circulation record was kept by Miss Miller in a small handmade booklet.

The Bookmobile and a library float are seen in the 1948 Farmer’s Day Parade in Christiansburg. Notice the raised panels of the Bookmobile revealing book shelves on either side of the vehicle. (D. D. Lester Collection, Montgomery Museum of Art & History.

The Christiansburg Circulating Library Company was incorporated on March 16, 1850 by a number of well-known Christiansburg professional men including Eli Phlegar, David G. Douthat, and Rev. Nicholas Chevalier. No further details of this library are known, but it may have been a for-profit subscription or membership-based institution. The next library we have records for was at the Virginia Agricultural & Mechanical College, which had a 500 book library when it was founded in 1872.

There was a public library in place in Christiansburg by 1907 when the Christiansburg Library was noted in the annual Report of the State Librarian as being a “citizen’s library” station serviced by the Virginia State Library’s Traveling Library Department. The same report notes that Shawsville was served by one of sixty-seven library stations. The Shawsville station had 39 borrowers for the year with a circulation of 173. The library in Christiansburg was still in operation in 1916 when a notice in the News Messenger noted a library “story hour” event. In 1919, the Christiansburg Free Library’s limited hours were announced in the News Messenger; it was open only on Wednesdays from 2:30-3:30 pm. From its description as a “free” library it is clear that this was a public institution without membership or subscription fees. Long-serving Montgomery County School Superintendant Evans King once recalled that in 1928, the Christiansburg library held 500 books.

The existing county library began in 1941 as part of the Radford Area Library system. Established with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds, branches were located at Radford and at Christiansburg. The Christiansburg library was initially housed in the mezzanine level of the Piedmont Department Store at 34-36 East Main Street. The space was donated by the store’s manager, Isaac Mensh. It opened in 1944 with Miss Juanita Robertson as the librarian.

The county ceased contributing funds to the program in 1943 ending WPA funds as well. A citizen campaign restored funds, however, and the library grew to 40,000 books. The Christiansburg Library moved to the Phlegar Building on South Franklin Street in 1946, to the Marshall House in 1953, then to a former church on Radford Road in 1977. The first Blacksburg branch library was established on Main Street in 1969. It later moved to Draper Road. The City of Radford left the library system in 1970 and Floyd County joined in 1975 to create the regional system still in place today.

The expansion of the Christiansburg Library to the Marshall House in 1953 allowed space for a Children’s Room as seen in this photograph from October 6, 1954. (D. D. Lester Collection, Montgomery Museum of Art & History)

Branch libraries throughout the county often began as deposit places located in homes, crossroads stores, etc. that were stocked monthly from a bookmobile. The bookmobile was crucial to the growth of the library system. The first bookmobile, created during the 1930s, was a retrofitted automobile with lift-up panels covering shelves that were accessed from outdoors. This unit was invaluable during the gasoline rationing of the World War II period. In 1949, the Bookmobile added a trailer; the first in the state. The trailer was elaborately designed with shelves, desk, coat closet, cupboard, heat, lights and venetian blinds. It carried 1,200 books. In 1961, this was replaced with a van and in 1978 a Gerstenslager model bookmobile with 2,500 books. The bookmobile service ended in 2008.

The long history of the library illustrates both the importance placed on reading in Montgomery County and the efforts community members have made to ensure that books were available to all. Looking at the long history of local libraries highlights how fortunate we are to have access to the significant offerings available at the modern Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library system.

Sources:
Kanode, Roy, Christiansburg, Virginia
Report of the State Librarian, 1907-1908 and Acts of Incorporation, 1850; copies in Montgomery Museum files
Miscellaneous documents, June Sayers, Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library

The Wild West Came to Montgomery County

During the Colonial era, Montgomery County was considered to be the western edge of settlement. Yet, it is not the location we generally mean when we think of “The West.”

This mythos was created in large part by the Wild West Shows that toured the country during the late-nineteenth century. The shows presented the culture of the Plains Indian as the only American Indian and the cowboy as a hero. 

William F. Cody founded “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” in 1883. The show featured “frontier characters” performing riding and shooting exhibitions, rodeo activities, theatrical reenactments, and more. Cody’s show joined with a similar show founded by Gordon Lillie (aka “Pawnee Bill”) in 1908 to become “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Far East” show. Arriving in Roanoke in October 1911, the Roanoke Times wrote that the pair had: ” . . . united their forces for the purpose of giving the people of America an anthropological exhibit of the globe.” The show performed again in 1913 and was described as the “original ‘movies’.”

Pawnee Bill’s History Wild West Show appeared in Radford around 1906; the troupe paraded along East Main Street in this photograph.
(D. D. Lester Collection, Montgomery Museum of Art and History)

The Wild West shows, along with circuses, minstrel shows, musical performances and more toured the country and stopped in Montgomery County regularly. To learn more about how Montgomery County residents got their kicks, view the newly opened exhibit “Entertain Me!: Montgomery County Traveling Shows” at the Montgomery Museum of Art and History.

Montgomery County Women Embraced Change During the 1920s

Montgomery County Women Embraced Change During the 1920s

The newest exhibit at the Montgomery Museum, “Spirit of Progress: Montgomery County in the 1920s,” looks at both the advances and the inequalities that were part of life during this time. Women, newly able to vote, also experienced expanded opportunity for economic freedom. Women now worked at industrial jobs at the Blue Ridge Overall factory and found new acceptance in business and professional positions.

Pink silk dress with drop waist, c. 1925.
Pink silk dress with drop waist, c. 1925.

The clothing on display in the exhibit tells the story of the changing role of women during this time. A pink drop-waistline silk dress is typical of the boyish look fashionable during the 1920s. The loose fitting dress hung straight, not revealing the wearer’s curves. The ability to abandon the constraining corsets required by the form-fitting, heavy dresses of the nineteenth century was empowering. Freedom of movement, both physically and socially, was the hallmark of the 1920s for women.

The female sewing operators working at the Blue Ridge Overall factory embraced this new freedom as they donned men’s denim overalls and festive caps to march in the 1926 Lee Highway Opening parade. These women felt free to celebrate their place in the economic picture of the county and to abandon dresses for men’s pants in public. However, they earned only earned about half as much money as men working similar unskilled factory jobs at the time.

Female employees of the Blue Ridge Overall Factory participated in the opening parade during the 1926 Lee Highway celebration. (D. D. Lester Collection)

Juanita Robertson was a working woman whose wardrobe continues our story. Miss Robertson graduated from Christiansburg High School in 1916 and by 1920 she was employed as a telephone clerk. While we do not know if she ever considered marriage, Miss Robertson was clearly interested in forwarding her career. In 1930, she was employed as a stenographer at “the college,” probably Virginia Tech. She continued working as a stenographer at least through 1940. In 1944, she took the role of librarian for the newly opened public library in Christiansburg. In 1945, she began working for the Town of Christiansburg. She soon gained the position of assistant town treasurer; a role she would hold for the next nineteen years. Upon her retirement in 1966, she was honored with a banquet and those who knew her remembered her years of “efficient and faithful service.”

Certainly among the county’s earliest “career women,” Juanita Robertson was also concerned that her wardrobe be fashionable. Two dresses and a beaded purse owned by Miss Robertson are currently on exhibit. By the 1930s, women’s clothing became softer and more graceful. The natural waistline and curves were again celebrated as seen in both of Miss Robertson’s dresses, which date to the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Blue evening gown and silk floral day dress, circa 1925-1935, worn by Miss Juanita Robertson.

The clothing now on exhibit is beautiful. When we understand how these garments tell the story of women across Montgomery County who were joining the workforce and finding new opportunities, the beauty of the garments has an even deeper meaning.