Hometown treasures: Jewels await discovery in your hometown

Gazette-Journal staff - Posted on Aug 25, 2010 - 04:26 PM

You think you know everything about your home; then you open a drawer or a closet and find an absolute treasure, overlooked and almost forgotten.

You think you know your hometown; then you stop in a small museum or art exhibit, and another dimension unveils its wonders. How much do you really know about the place you live?

This series, "Hometown Treasures," explores public museums, exhibits and archives open to all, and private collections available for viewing by appointment.


This week: A look at some local museums, compiled by members of the Gazette-Journal staff.

Gloucester Museum of History

Gloucester’s public museum is located in one of the most historic places in the county: the Botetourt Building on Main Street, built around 1770. This well-known structure, just east of the court green, operated as the Hotel Botetourt until 1958. The county bought the old hotel building in 1965, put it to various uses, and moved the Gloucester Museum of History from the court green to this location in 2000.

Betty Jean Deal, director since 1996, said at least six exhibits are staged each year, including features on black history, daffodils, archaeology, and the holidays. She said about 3,000 people a year go through the museum. Permanent exhibits include Werowocomoco, the Civil War, Medal of Honor winner James D. Gardiner, civil rights leaders, county history, and items on how people lived and worked.

Photo: There are fascinating collections of artifacts in our own backyard that deserve a second (or maybe even) first look. Museums in Gloucester and Mathews counties are filled with local history and lore. Here, Jean Clarke is a volunteer docent at the Gloucester Museum of History. She also has a book for sale there; with Roane Hunt, she compiled “Love and Loss, A Virginia Girl’s Civil War Diary.”

There are fascinating collections of artifacts in our own backyard that deserve a second (or maybe even) first look. Museums in Gloucester and Mathews counties are filled with local history and lore. Here, Jean Clarke is a volunteer docent at the Gloucester Museum of History. She also has a book for sale there; with Roane Hunt, she compiled “Love and Loss, A Virginia Girl’s Civil War Diary.”

Treasured items include the original manuscript of "The Honey-Pod Tree," the autobiography of T. C. Walker, found in a New York attic and purchased by Friends of the Museum; and the original painting of General Taliaferro reviewing the last muster of troops at Roaring Springs, donated by the daughter and son of the late artist, Robert Goodier.

A gift shop includes books on Gloucester County history and genealogy, county ornaments, shelf sitters, postcards, and trivets.

Hours of operation: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, or by appointment. Call 693-1234 or visit the website, www.gloucesterva.info/museum.

Pocahontas Museum

Location: Lewis Avenue, just off Main Street, Gloucester.

Admission is free, and donations are welcome. The museum is dedicated to the legacy of the Indian chief Powhatan’s daughter, and is open by appointment; call Betty DeHardit or Beth Richardson, at 693-2795, to make arrangements.

Betty DeHardit, founder, said the collection began when "I wondered how many ways Pocahontas was represented and started by buying pictures and such off eBay. I have been amazed by the volume of things that either show her or are named after her, not only locations and towns, but businesses, products, etc.," as well as a number of books. Now these items are displayed at the museum dedicated to one of Gloucester County’s most famous daughters.

The museum is also dedicated to the long-held proposition that Powhatan’s village was located in Wicomico, at the site of Powhatan’s Chimney. This is a reconstruction of an ancient chimney on the site which had been considered the place where John Smith built the Indian chief a house. "How can anyone question the authenticity of Powhatan’s chimney?" DeHardit asked. "It is not only mentioned in Smith’s book, and its location specified, and the date it was built. The location is shown on numerous old maps, mentioned by loads of historians, some have even visited it. Soldiers during the Civil War visited it and when it fell down in 1888 it caused so much publicity that the APVA was formed to prevent further destruction of historic sites. They rebuilt it according to descriptions of it at the same area the original one was."

She disputes the more recent identification by archaeologists of a sprawling site on Purtan Bay as the true seat of Powhatan, and is glad to present her arguments and show her Pocahontas collection to anyone willing to listen and to see.

Buck Rowe’s Store

Location: at the Bena intersection of Guinea Road and Mark Pine Road. Open early in the mornings, Monday-Saturday; and by appointment.

To visit Buck Rowe’s store, you will have to get up early.

Buck Rowe, the unofficial mayor of Guinea, left the family store at Bena, where he held council daily, to a non-profit organization that keeps it open in the mornings.

Men who gathered there for decades continue to come in the morning for "coffee and lies," said Ginny Snowden, co-chair of the C. B. Rowe Jr. Museum and Scholarship Fund. Mac Fitzgerald, a regular, said as many as 20 people will gather and sometimes entertain a special guest, such as the sheriff. Sometimes one of them will bring a box of doughnuts. After their coffee, they head off to a day’s work. Donations pay for the coffee and keep the lights on. The usual hours are 6-8 a.m.

"Buck left his store to be open as long as it could support itself to stay open as a museum and store, and if it is not sustaining itself, it’s to be sold and put the proceeds in a scholarship fund," Snowden said. A "very generous" support last year paid for some structural repairs and painting. Such donations are always welcome, she added.

The shelves on one side of the store, which opened in 1920, are much as he left them. Cabinets on the other side hold Guinea artifacts. Buck’s sausage and barbecue are no longer made and sold there, but the recipes have been saved.

To arrange a tour, call Ginny Snowden, 642-5824.

Gwynn’s Island Museum

Location: Old Ferry Road at Gwynn.

Open April 1 to Nov. 1, 1-5 p.m. each Friday, Saturday and Sunday; and year-round by appointment for school groups, clubs, or parties of six or more people; call 725-7949. Website: www.gwynnsislandmuseum.org. Admission is free and donations are "gratefully received."

A repository for items of local history since its sponsor, the Gwynn’s Island Civic League, began collecting items in 1990, the Gwynn’s Island Museum tells a story from prehistoric days through the 20th century.

It began in one location, before long moved to its present site on Old Ferry Road, and has plans and land—but not the funds at this time—to add on. It needs more space for its collection, which has grown beyond the space available on the two floors of the museum, said Jean Tanner, director.

Tanner, who moved to Gwynn’s Island with her husband Bob in the mid-1970s, soon began finding multiple Indian artifacts, including a rare Clovis point, on their shoreline near Hole in the Wall. Her collection grew; her interest in local history grew; and this impressive array of relics from the island’s Native American days is the nucleus of the present museum holdings.

The oldest items on display include a fossilized jawbone of a tapir, millions of years old, and a fossilized egg. The museum covers local and island history from that period almost to the present, with an emphasis on island life, education, early families, maritime history, and wartime contributions.

One room is set aside for researchers and is filled with family histories donated by interested patrons and residents.

A gift shop includes books, cards, John Tobin photography and cards, T-shirts, maritime novelties and more.

Tompkins Cottage

Location: Brickbat Road, Mathews, adjacent to the Court Green.

Hours: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays.

Tompkins Cottage, museum and headquarters of the Mathews County Historical Society, contains many donated items of historical interest to Mathews County including a brick from the keeper’s house at New Point Lighthouse, oyster shells the size of a foot, and a desk from the first county clerk’s office. One room has been dedicated to the life and work of Capt. Sally Louisa Tompkins, Civil War nurse and the only woman commissioned an officer in the Confederate States Army. Her father, Christopher Tompkins of Poplar Grove, operated a store on this site at Mathews Court House. Visitors can see an unfinished quilt and pair of needlepoint bedroom slippers worked by the noted native daughter.

A gift shop includes works of local history and books by local authors, Christmas ornaments with county themes, post cards, note cards, and the Sally Tompkins doll.

For information or to arrange a tour, call 725-7467.

Mathews Maritime Museum

Location: 482 Main Street, Mathews Court House.

Those visiting the Mathews Maritime Foundation’s Maritime Museum will not only get a glimpse into maritime history from the early 1800s on, but will also take a step back in time for a glimpse of the true culture of Mathews County from years ago.

Established in 1998, the foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting Mathews County’s maritime and cultural heritage through research, conservation, documentation and education.

The museum, open Fridays and Saturdays during the summer from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (or by appointment), features exhibits such as a Navy room, a World War II/navigation display, local boat building and repair, an educational room, Merchant Marine room, Civil War/early history room and more.

The museum is currently under renovation and will expand to include more exhibits and a room where the foundation’s annual speaker series can be held.

The museum also hosts a gift shop, with T-shirts, caps, stickers, calendars and more available promoting the Mathews Maritime Foundation.

For more information, call 725-4444 or e-mail info@mathewsmaritime.com.

If you can suggest a Hometown Treasure for us to explore, please call 693-3101 or e-mail homepage@gazettejournal.net.