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

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

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Lions and Tigers and Bears – oh, my!

 

Dr. Figgat and Telegraph Office Building, Christiansburg, Va., 1903 (D. D. Lester Collection)

A poster in a shop window is captured in a glass plate negative from the museum’s collection. It is a simple building, which stood on East Main Street, across the street from the present-day Police Department building. The building housed the office of Dr. William Figgat and the telegraph office. The poster itself allows us to date the photograph because it advertises Wallace’s Show coming to Christiansburg on Saturday, October 3. A check of historic calendars at www.timeanddate.com shows that October 3 fell on a Saturday in the year 1903.

            Even more interesting is the show itself. The poster touts “Wallace Show with Herr Becker’s Troupe of Performing Animals.” Benjamin Wallace, a livery stable owner from Peru, Indiana created the show in 1884. He purchased the Carl Hagenbeck Circus in 1907 to form the Hagenbeck-Wallace show; it became the second largest circus in the country at its peak.

Historian Rodney A. Huey, Ph.D , writes in “An Abbreviated History of The Circus in America” that the 1900-1920 period was the golden age of the American circus with nearly 100 circuses traveling in the United States by 1903. According to Huey, the circus was “indelibly fixed in everyday life” even changing our vocabulary to include phrases such as “hold your horses” (a warning to local horsemen when the circus elephants paraded through town) and “get the show on the road” (a directive shouted at roustabouts to break down the show and move to the next town).

Onlookers view an act from Wallace Show on the town square in Christiansburg, Oct. 11, 1904. (D. D. Lester Collection)

Wallace Show parade in town square, Christiansburg, Va., Oct. 11, 1904. (D. D. Lester Collection)

            Circus show days were local holidays, when stores and schools closed and everyone came to town to witness the spectacle. That this happened in Christiansburg is vouched for by Arthur Sullivan in a letter to his sister on July 25th, 1869. His letter, a part of the museum’s collection reads: “we had a big Show and to tell the truth about it nearly everybody in town went to see the animals and did not get away until the Circus broke up.” The excitement surrounding the circus was still strong in 1904, when two additional glass plate negatives record another visit by Wallace’s Show, this time on October 11 – 13. Crowds line the streets in the photographs watching the show’s wagon parade. In another image, a circle of viewers surround an act, obscuring it from the camera.

Wallace Shows Poster (courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

            All of the photographs in the museum’s extensive collection record a single moment in time, but by looking at them closely we can link them together, hopefully with written documents, to understand more about everyday life during our history.

By: Sherry Joines Wyatt, Curator

Sources:www.circusfederation.org/uploads/circus_culture/about/america-huey.pdf
Wikipedia
Wikipedia Commons

 

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A Quilt and Its Many Connections

Research often leads you in directions you never considered.  An unfinished quilt top in the Pine Burr pattern, now on exhibit at the museum, is intriguing because it is a friendship quilt made by at least twelve women whose names or initials are on the quilt top. A color guide for historic fabrics provided an approximate late-nineteenth century date. To learn something about the women who made the quilt top, we started with the genealogy of the Stanger-Silvers family, who donated the quilt and other items in 1988. Women whose first and last names were on the quilt were also researched. We found that many of the women had lived in the Belmont community of Montgomery County. 

Pine Burr pattern friendship quilt top made in Belmont Community circa 1890. (gift of Bob and Yvonne Silvers)

Marriage records were the logical place to find out more. The marriage dates of the women could lead to a more accurate quilt date, since friendship quilts were often done in honor of a marriage. In fact, even more information came to light! Two of the women were married by the same minister: Reverend D. Bittle Groseclose. This was a new idea – what if the women were not only neighbors or relatives, but also attended the same church.

 

Three women believed to be connected to the quilt were married in 1890, 1892, and 1896 by Rev. Groseclose. Rev. Groseclose served as chaplain at Virginia Polytechnic Institute from 1897-1902 and organized New St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in the Glade community of Montgomery County in 1903 shortly before he moved to South Carolina. A search of all the marriage records for 1889-1903 revealed that Rev. Groseclose had married 98 couples. These couples ran the social gamut including African Americans and whites, miners and farmers, railroad wo

 

rkers and physicians. An additional twelve couples related to the quilt makers were married by Rev. Groseclose. In the end, the study of Rev. Groseclose created a richer history of the lives of these women.

Although there are still many questions and suppositions, we believe the quilt top was made for Amanda Linkous (1864-1906), probably upon her marriage to Sylvester Stanger (1866-1942) in 1890. The identified quilt makers are thought to include: Mattie Hawley, who may have been the daughter of James and Catherine Hawley; Mary Keister, who may have been the daughter of James Ballard and Nancy Hawley Keister; Hattie B. Long who is thought to have been the daughter of William and Rebecca Long; and Luvenie (or Louvenia) Sheppard who was married to James C. Stanger in 1896 by Rev. Groseclose. The fifth name on the quilt top is partially illegible: “ ___ Linkes” [sic, Linkous]. Are you able to identify this Miss Linkous?

Join us to see the Pine Burr quilt top and many other quilts during the museum’s exhibit: A Pieced History: Quilts in Montgomery County.

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Photographs Give a View into the Past

The museum owns a large number of photographs. While many are identified, there are hundreds more of people and places whose names have been lost to time. Are these photos of any value? In most cases, the answer is “yes!” Let’s look at one of the museum’s “mystery photos” and see what we might be able to learn.

This image is part of the large Craig Family Collection that came to the museum in 1988 from the estate of Miss Sherwood Flagg; the last of the Craig family to own Hans Meadow. It is a “cartes de viste” photograph, meaning that it is a thin paper photograph (sepia tone) mounted on 2 ½” x 4” cardboard. Cartes de viste were very popular from the 1860s into the 1870s, when they began to be supplanted by “cabinet cards” which measured 4 ½” x 6 ½”.

The photograph shows an Asian woman carrying a young girl on her back. The cardboard mat is embossed with English and Asian characters and carries a lily design on the reverse making it similar to the later cabinet cards, which often carried ornamental logos. The image is dated and is partially identified: “For Wm. Sydner 2. J.1. Flagg from his friend, Kinar [?] George, June 29 ’94, age 13 mos.” The date is probably 1894; the meaning of the superscript numbers is unknown. We know the William C. Flagg, Jr. family owned and resided at Hans Meadow, but this name does match any of those known. We also do not know who George was. The interaction of East and West during the late-nineteenth century is well-known however. For example, Christiansburg native Rev. William M. Junkin traveled to Korea as a missionary in 1892 remaining there until his death in 1908. Is this photograph related to Junkin in some way? Or is this yet another example of an American missionary working in Asia? It would be easy to think that the woman and child were merely posing for tourist souvenirs, but the girl’s age is given suggesting that she was part of George’s family. The child also seems to be wearing Western-style clothes. Was the woman a servant? We may never understand the story this photograph is showing, but our ideas about local communication with far-away places during this historic period are significantly expanded when we look at this photo.

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The Unforgotten Henry King

Henry King (Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Henry King was born on a farm in Elliston, Virginia, in 1886. Growing up he attended school in Lafayette, Virginia, where he was passionate about one act plays and recitations. These passions led him to pursue a career in acting and directing that would span six decades and resulted in his making over 100 movies.

A visit by “Doctor” Alward’s traveling medicine show to Lafayette enticed young Henry King to leave his hometown. King worked with several tour companies during his traveling show career and performed nine shows a week in various towns. He received his first small directing role with a stock company in Chicago.

King’s traveling show work took him to Hollywood and in 1913 the 27-year old began acting in silent movies. He appeared in a dozen films such as, “The Devil’s Bait,” “Shadows and Sunshine,” and “Should a Wife Forgive.” He sometimes performed his own stunts without any safety precautions. During his acting career he began writing screenplays. In the 1915 movie “Who Pays,” for example, a violent fight sequence was based on a fight that he had witnessed at the train station in Elliston. King choreographed and directed the scene; it was his first experience in film directing.

King would go on to make many hit movies: “Twelve O’clock High,” “Jesse James,” “Carousel,” “Tender Is the Night,” and more. King directed the 1921 movie “Tol’able David,” which was filmed in Highland County, Virginia. A box office smash, it is considered his masterpiece. In 1930, he was hired by Goldwyn United Artists where he would spend the rest of his career.

King won almost 20 academy awards and a Golden Globe for best director for the film “The Song of Bernadette.”  He worked with stars such as Will Rogers, Shirley Temple, Rock Hudson, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, and Tyrone Power during his expansive career.

Henry King passed away at his home in Toluca Lake, California in 1982 at the age of 96. A pioneer in the motion picture industry King is credited with directing more than 160 motion pictures between 1915 and 1961. Yet his work and dedication to the film industry are largely unnoticed today. Henry King deserves to be remembered in his native Montgomery County.

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