Haven’t we all said it when we see a great photograph? In these conversations, “Look at this one!” is often followed by “It looks like they are…..” It is that moment of inspiration that this new exhibit captures. What do these photographs make you think of? We invite you to help curate this exhibit by adding your funny, apt, and poignant captions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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