Objects Tell the Story in New Exhibit

The forty-five objects in this new exhibit now open at the Montgomery Museum of Art & History review all two hundred and forty-five-years of Montgomery County, Virginia’s history. Inspired by similar exhibits in Richmond, Virginia and the United Kingdom, this exhibition allows objects, both beautiful and mundane, to tell the Montgomery County story.

The Montgomery Museum is grateful to exhibit objects from its own extensive collections as well as those that are on display through the courtesy of Christiansburg Institute, Inc. as well as objects on loan to us from private collectors.

What were the interaction of English and German settlers with native people? View the 1790s ironstone platter once owned by the Harman family who were among the county’s earliest settlers.  A Confederate sword made in Christiansburg, juxtaposed with slave shackles enables us to think about the impact of slavery and the Civil War. Commemorative pins from the opening of Route 11 and a horse doubletree (wagon harness) helps us to consider changes brought by new technology and methods of transportation change the county.

The stories brought forth by these objects give opportunities for discussion and thought – they provide a tangible link to our past. Objects continue to be central to the role of museums. Objects celebrate, commemorate, and speak for those who came before. Join us now through December 2021 and see the stories for yourself.

Vote and Help Us Preserve Slave-made Coverlet

The Competition
Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts is part of the Virginia Association of Museum’s “Virginia Collections Initiative” implemented in 2011. VAM has supported over 180 organizations since the program’s launch.
 
This coverlet in the Montgomery Museum’s collection was made by an enslaved woman in Montgomery County and is a Top 10 Honoree. We are now competing to win additional funding for its conservation care.
 
 
How to Vote
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    Do Your Part and VOTE NOW! (and then again!) 

Coverlet History
According to family lore, the bedcovering was woven by a slave in Montgomery County on the plantation of Catherine L. Montague Trigg for her step-daughter Catherine Trigg Mosby. Passed from generation to generation, the large overshot coverlet (ca.1850) remained in the family for more than 160 years. The pattern uniformity indicates the work of one weaver, probably a woman.

We know that in 1850, there were 6 slaves held on the Trigg farm, including two women, ages 16 and 41. In 1852 and 1853, eight slaves were sold from the farm, to settle Thomas Trigg’s estate, including four women: Amy, Maria, Jane, and Margaret. Another slave, a woman, 50 years old, continued to be owned by Catherine Montague Trigg in 1860, her name has not yet been discovered. Any of these women could have been a spinner, dyer, or weaver.

A time-consuming work of art, overshot coverlets are not signed or dated. Textiles made prior to the Civil War and attributed to enslaved women are rare in museum collections nationwide. The generational memory of the Trigg coverlet is an opportunity to enrich and enhance the story of enslaved women in Montgomery County via their skilled work.

Beautiful: the Changing Faces of Beauty & Cosmetics

What makes a woman beautiful? Society’s answer changed significantly between 1870 and 1970. For better or worse, our appearance communicates something to the people around us. As cultural attitudes and codes of morality changed, so did the standards of beauty. The tools, products, and techniques that were utilized to create the ideal look tell the stories of women’s daily lives, cultural attitudes about gender and race, and the empowerment of women.
 
The new exhibit now installed at the Montgomery Museum of Art & History explores these concepts through an array of historic cosmetics and beauty aids. The impact on the beauty industry for women economically was important. The story of the young women at Christiansburg Institute who took cosmetology as part of their vocational training is told with the display of rarely seen artifacts on loan from Christiansburg Institute, Inc. Their coursework could provide a means to a viable career. Further illustrating the story of beauty attitudes and techniques are advertisements, hair care equipment and accessories, period photographs, and cosmetics packages.
 
From the influence of the moving picture industry, to the idea of women exhibiting their patriotism through their red lipstick, the exhibit raises the question: Was the rise in cosmetics empowering to women or did it exacerbate the attitude that a woman’s value was only in her appearance? Join us to view this exhibit and decide for yourself what it means to be beautiful.

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

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.

The History of Food in Historic Cookbook

The museum is fortunate to have a copy of the early cookbook, Housekeeping in Old Virginia, donated in 2011 by Steven Estrada. Compiled by Lynchburg-native Marion Cabell Tyree, a granddaughter of Patrick Henry, the cookbook was originally printed in 1879; the museum’s second edition copy is from 1884. The book contains 1,700 recipes along with Mrs. Tyree’s own advice essays. She solicited recipes from 250 friends and acquaintances, or as she styled them, “Virginia’s noted housewives,” via her social network of prominent Virginians. The book includes several wine-making recipes from Mrs. Robert E. Lee and recipes from five Montgomery County women.

Montgomery County Women Contributed to 1879 Cookbook
Margaret Kent Langhorne (1817-1891) was the daughter of Jacob and Polly Kent, of Edgehill plantation near Shawsville. She married John Archer Langhorne in 1839 and had seven children. The family lived in Roanoke County until after 1850 when they moved to Montgomery County.

Fanny Cazenove Minor (1839-1884) of Alexandria, VA, was the wife of Charles L. C. Minor, who became the first president of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Virginia Tech) in 1872. Charles and Fanny Minor had two children and later lived in Winchester, VA. Mrs. Minor contributed a recipe for Green Tomato Sweetmeats.

Lucinda Redd Preston (1813-1891) married William Ballard Preston in Patrick County in 1839. Ballard Preston was the son of Gov. James Patton Preston and Ann Taylor Preston of Smithfield Plantation. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates, Senate, U. S. House of Representatives and was Secretary of the Navy in 1849-1850. Mrs. Preston contributed a recipe for Peach Conserves.

Mary Hart Preston (1810-1881) married Confederate General Robert Taylor Preston in 1833. Preston was born at Smithfield Plantation, the son of Gov. James Patton Preston and Ann Taylor Preston. The couple had three children and lived at “Solitude,” which still stands on the Virginia Tech campus.

Sarah Ann Caperton Preston (1826-1908) of Union, WV married Col. James Francis Preston in 1855. Preston was the son of Gov. James Patton Preston and Ann Taylor Preston of Smithfield and earned his rank as the commander of the Fourth Virginia Regiment dubbed the “Stonewall Bridgade.”  The family lived at Whitethorne in Montgomery County and had three sons. Her obituary called her a “woman of great strength of character and very great sweetness of disposition.”

This recipe for Peach Conserves was contributed to the 1879 cookbook by Mrs. William Ballard Preston  (Lucinda Redd Preston) from Housekeeping in Old Virginia. (Gift of Steven Estrada)

Housekeeping in Old Virginia is a time capsule of our Southern traditions. While some of the recipes for souse cheese, calf’s head soup, and tongue toast are probably not to our modern tastes there are also multiple recipes for marble cakes, gingerbread, and fruit preserves. The 50 pages of recipes for pickles and catsups illustrate the need to prepare foods for long-term storage without refrigeration. Among the many heritage-preserving recipes in Housekeeping in Old Virginia is a recipe for the Appalachian staple, salt rising bread, several recipes for chow-chow, four different Brunswick Stew recipes (all but one called for squirrel) and the earliest known published recipe for sweet iced tea, whose place in the Southern psyche needs no explanation. Visit the museum to view our exhibit on historic food ways and learn even more.

Happy cookin’ ya’ll!

Sherry Joines Wyatt, Museum Curator