Explore the past in SW Virginia this summer with a historic scavenger hunt!
Sixteen history museums, from Bedford to Wytheville, are partnering to celebrate the 350th Anniversary of the Batts & Fallam [aka Batte & Hallom] Expedition
Three hundred and fifty years ago, explorers Thomas Batts [Batte] and Robert Fallam [Hallom] set out from what is now Petersburg on a quest to find a land route to the Pacific Ocean. Their journal records their visit to this region, making them some of the earliest—and perhaps the first—European explorers to reach southwest Virginia. This summer, sixteen history museums across the region are recreating that spirit of exploration with a scavenger hunt of historic proportions.
This summer will be a great time to get out and explore SW Virginia history! Each museum tells its own unique and fascinating story; in addition, each site has selected a special scavenger hunt challenge question that adds to the fun. Visitors are encouraged to pick up a History Passport at any participating museum or download a copy at the History Hunt SW VA Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/HistoryHuntSWVA. The History Passport includes all of the scavenger hunt questions, plus information about each participating museum.
The majority of these museums offer free admission, or free admission for children participating in this passport program. Hours also vary: call ahead or check museum websites for the days of the week and hours each is open. Families and visitors of all ages are welcome and encouraged to join in the exploration.
Visitors will be entered into a prize drawing for every five museums visited between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when they find the answers to the scavenger hunt challenge questions at each site. The drawing will take place after Labor Day.
The sixteen participating history museums stretch from Bedford to Wytheville, offering much to explore:
- Bedford: Bedford Museum & Genealogical Library (http://www.bedfordvamuseum.org/), and National D-Day Memorial (https://www.dday.org/).
- Fincastle: Botetourt County Historical Society & Museum (https://bothistsoc.wordpress.com/).
- Roanoke Valley: O. Winston Link & History Museum of Western Virginia (https://roanokehistory.org/), Salem Museum (https://salemmuseum.org/), and Virginia Museum of Transportation (http://www.vmt.org/).
- New River Valley: Alexander Black House & Cultural Center and St. Luke & Odd Fellows Hall (https://www.blacksburgmuseum.org/), Glencoe Mansion Museum & Gallery (https://glencoemuseum.org/), Historic Smithfield (https://www.historicsmithfield.org/), Montgomery Museum of Art & History (www.montgomerymuseum.org), Ratcliffe Museum of Transportation (https://www.theratcliffemuseum.com/, and Wilderness Road Regional Museum (https://wildernessroadregionalmuseum.com/) .
- Wytheville: Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum (http://www.edithbollingwilson.org/), Haller-Gibboney Rock House Museum and Thomas J. Boyd Museum (https://www.wytheville.org/museums/museums.php).
The Batts and Fallam [Batte and Hallom] Expedition of 1671 was funded by Abraham Wood, who hoped the expedition would discover a route to the “South Sea” just beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. The explorers and their Native American guide headed west, but their exact route is debated by historians today. In September, the explorers noted in their journal, “we came to a very steep descent, at the foot whereof stood the Totera Town in a very rich swamp between a branch and the main River of Roanoke circled about with mountains… Here we were exceedingly civilly entertain’d. Saturday night, Sunday and Monday we staid at the Toteras.” The location of Totera Town, home of the Tutelo tribe, remains a mystery, but archaeological evidence suggests it may have been in modern Salem. While the group didn’t find a route to the Pacific, they are credited with being the first Europeans to see the New River.
For more information and to download a passport, visit History Hunt SW VA Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/HistoryHuntSWVA.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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’.”
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.