One of my favorite museums is The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, located in Winchester, Virginia. It’s not a military museum, but it’s worth a Civil War history buff’s stop for the cultural experience and regional details preserved from one of the highly contested areas during the 1860’s conflict. Some of the museum’s exhibitions change, but their permanent collection features items which date back to the Civil War era.
The Shenandoah Valley Collection preserves and displays objects and artifacts from the regions communities, many created by local craftsmen through the decades. Furniture, pottery, textiles, metal work, baskets, folk art, and fine paintings help visitors gain a better appreciation for the cultural development and material culture of the area. If you ever wondered what Union cavalryman might have seen when he entered a home during the “The Burning” in 1864, studying the artifacts at the museum helps the setting of the past “come alive.”
The permanent collection also features R. Lee Taylor’s Miniatures – handcrafted replica houses and buildings with historical significance or ties. View a replica of a Louisiana plantation home, a recreation of the home that has stood on the museum property since before the Civil War, and other structures/interiors of interest. If you’re a Gone With The Wind fan, there’s a model of the movie’s Tara Plantation, complete with a missing curtain since Miss Scarlett had been doing some dressmaking.
The Julian Wood Glass, Jr. Collection displays a personal collection of historic items, including eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European and American furniture, fine paintings, and decorative arts. The pieces from his family ancestors who settled in the Shenandoah Valley prior to the Civil War are of particular interest. Keep in mind that items dated prior to the Civil War and even from the 1700’s were probably still in use or displayed in the homes. Just like we enjoy keeping that painting from grandpa’s house or using grandma’s china dishes, this type of era overlap in material culture certainly occurred. Folks did not ditch their possessions every decade for the most fashionable fads.
If you have the chance to visit The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley between April and December, plan time to tour Glen Burnie House and Gardens on the museum property. The structure pre-dates the Civil War and has been well-preserved, but the furnishings reflect the last owner’s interest in art and decor from many different eras. The gardens are simply spectacular!
But there’s plenty to see at the museum and much on their calendar to make a winter visit enjoyable. Check out upcoming events, including concerts and hands-on worshops to learn about traditional crafts from the region.
If cultural, societal, and regional history is your interest, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is a wonderful experience. Even if military history and battlefielding is your preferred style, consider making a stop, getting out of the chilly weather, and viewing some the material culture that would have been the backdrop in civilian homes (and military headquarters in those houses) during the conflict. It’s a way to expand our understanding of the past…
The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley