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 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 deeper meaning.
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.”
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
The interesting thing about history is how it can lead a researcher in unanticipated directions. This small handmade booklet, with a heavy decorative paper cover and tied with silk ribbon, is a good example. Described in the museum catalog as “handmade library register” a closer look reveals a richer story beginning with the following inscription “Books issued out of the lybrary [sic], Emeline A. Miller’s class.” The register contains a list of female names and an accounting of books (identified by a number) checked out on certain dates. Where was the library? Who were these people?
Emeline A. Miller (1813 – ), the daughter of Dr. Joseph and Matilda Miller of Christiansburg was the niece of the folk artist Lewis Miller. She became the wife of John Craig in 1835. Craig inherited the large Hans Meadow estate in Christiansburg after the death of his father, Captain James Craig, in 1834. The museum received the booklet as part of a gift from the Sherwood Flagg estate in 1988, Miss Flagg was the last descendant of the Craig family to own Hans Meadow.
The booklet begins in June 1833 and goes through June 1835; weekly dates for each month are recorded as days when books were taken out. An online historic calendar tells us that these were all Sundays. Emeline Miller joined the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church in 1832; her future husband was also a member. .A picture is now forming of Miss Emeline Miller, prior to her marriage, teaching a Sunday School class in Christiansburg for girls. Several of these girls have been identified.
Frances A. S. Douthat was born in 1821 (making her age 12 in 1833). She was the daughter of Robert and Mary Douthat who lived in a log house in the 100 Block of West Main St., Christiansburg. She married Daniel W. Akers in 1839.
Mary A. Wade was born around 1821 to William and Emily (Milly) Wade. William Wade joined the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church in 1831 and was a ruling elder for 25 years. Mary A. Wade married James Barnet in 1839.
Ann Bowyer was likely the daughter, born around 1821, of Thomas Bowyer and Nancy Craig Bowyer. Nancy was the daughter of Captain James and Ann Craig. Ann Craig was a founding member of the Christiansburg Presbyterian Church.
Emeline Snider may have been the daughter of John and Lucy Snider, born about 1824. John Snider was a hatter in Christiansburg.
Further research into the history of Christiansburg Presbyterian Church reveals that the fledgling church had been without a pastor for about three years when Rev. J. H. Wallace answered the call in 1832. It may not be a coincidence that Miss Miller’s Sunday School came about during this period of reinvigoration. The Sunday School seems to have ended shortly before Miss Miller’s marriage to John Craig on August 31, 1835.
From a humble little book we have learned so much about the early life in Christiansburg Presbyterian Church. It is these stories that give meaning to the mission of the museum to preserve these objects.
By: Sherry Joines Wyatt, Curator
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.
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.