Middlesex Museum and Historical Society, Inc.
Despite the year’s unexpected challenges, the Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society, Inc. was able to alter its course and to develop creative ways to navigate the new reality. The Museum closed in March because of the pandemic and reopened in June with Covid-19 restrictions in place. The safety of our patrons is paramount and in September we again closed to the public as the Covid-19 infection rate increased in our community. The Museum will remain closed until we can safely serve our patrons in person. Even with being closed to the public much of the year, we found new and different ways to continue to share the rich and diverse history of Middlesex County.
In 2020 we increased the depth and breadth of our website (https://middlesexmuseum.com/) by adding new information in the following categories: churches, schools, country stores, forestry, farming, and oral histories. We also have added material that highlights some of the many objects in our collection. In addition we increased our contributions to the Museums of Middlesex (MOM) website (https://museumsofmiddlesex.com/). MOM is a collaboration among four Middlesex County institutions, the Urbanna Museum, the Deltaville Maritime Museum, the Colonial Seaport Foundation, and the Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society. Since September we have posted monthly historical tidbits on the MOM website.
We instituted free virtual programming to be able to continue with our practice of providing informative and provocative speakers on varied topics of interest to the public. In October, we presented a virtual lecture by the Reverend Dr. Robert W. Prichard on “The Great Awakening in Middlesex County.” Dr. Prichard is a member of our board who is the Arthur Lee Kinsolving Professor Emeritus of Christianity in America at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria.
In December, we held a virtual lecture by Dr. Melvin Patrick Ely who spoke about his book, Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War. Dr. Ely, who is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Humanities at the College of William and Mary, writes and teaches about the history of African Americans and of the South.
We will continue with virtual programming and have several lectures that are being planned. The Museum has joined as an endorsing organization for a virtual February 21 Black History Month program entitled “Education Foremost: The History and Legacy of the Rappahannock Industrial Academy” that is being presented by the Rappahannock Industrial Academy Alumni Association. Details of this program and other upcoming events will be posted on our website.
2020 Preservation Award
Since 2016, the Middlesex County Museum Preservation Award has been given annually to recognize individuals or entities who have made a significant contribution to the public understanding of Middlesex County history. The 2020 Preservation Award was given to longtime museum volunteer Helen Chandler. Helen was recognized for her many hours spent identifying, preserving, protecting, and cataloging the Museum’s accessions. The award was presented virtually at the October “Great Awakening” lecture.
Saluda Designated as Historic District
The Museum led the successful effort to have Saluda designated as a Virginia Historic Landmark and listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. The required documentation was officially completed in the fall of 2020. This designation, while recognizing the significance of our local government’s strategic location and that location’s impact on our county’s history, will not infringe on the rights of property owners. In conjunction with the designation, the Museum is planning an exhibition for 2021 that will be centered on Saluda and its rich history.
African-American Businesses in Middlesex County
The Museum has formed an Ad Hoc Committee on African-American Businesses in Middlesex County. The committee, whose mission is to document the long history of African-American entrepreneurship in Middlesex County, is composed of board members and other persons from the community. Relevant photographs, documents, and artifacts are being collected with the goal of enhancing the Museum’s holdings on this topic and mounting an exhibition in the not-too-distant future. In connection with this project, oral histories have been recorded from five individuals with additional interviews planned.
Flag Raising at Puller Park
Members of area U.S. Marine Corps detachments and others gathered at the Museum in November just before Veterans Day for a flag raising to honor Lieutenant General Lewis “Chesty” Burwell Puller and the 245th anniversary of the Marine Corps. Various individuals, clubs, local Marine detachments and businesses in the area funded a new flagpole and relocated the original marker in honor of Gen. Puller as part of a future “Chesty Puller Memorial Park” on the grounds of the Museum. The new flagpole and marker honoring General Puller is the first stage in the park’s development
African-American Heritage Fund
An African-American Heritage Fund was established through a generous donation from Mary Wakefield Buxton for use only for acknowledgement and appreciation of the many contributions made by Black Americans in our county. A two-fold approach is being considered for the utilization of this restricted fund. This will involve the potential use of a portion of the money for the funding of an exhibition on African-American businesses. The second consideration is the long-term use of the fund to help defray the costs of historical markers that recognize the contributions of African Americans to Middlesex County.
We expect to mount the several exhibitions planned along with exhibition-related programming when pandemic restrictions are eased. In addition we are exploring new and varied ways of delivering virtual programming. An event that had initially been planned for 2020, a tour of the historic Locust Grove offered by Dr. Robert Prichard and his family, will be held as soon as conditions will allow. We look forward to visiting this Colonial-era property on the Rappahannock River in Topping as a fundraiser for the Museum.