We are huge fans of the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia, one of the best museums on the east coast. We try to get there often as an educational supplement. We credit the museum with helping to make history interesting for our children.
Hop in to our golf cart for a tour of this living history museum – or perhaps estate would be a better word. The Frontier Culture Museum is a large parcel of property that holds several smaller farms, and the buildings you see were literally dismantled from their original locations in Europe and Virginia, and carefully reassembled on this estate. The African and Indian exhibits have been created on-site. The goal was to show this nation’s origins, and how all these cultures combined to create America.
We decided to start at the African Exhibit, which largely demonstrates life as it would have been in Nigeria before people were removed from their homes and lives and forcefully brought here. The African houses were surrounded by a walled courtyard of clay and palms and banana trees were scattered around the yard. A docent was making black-eyed pea cakes over a fire.
We toured the houses with their low roofs and cool stone floors. The temperature difference from outside to inside was amazing. It may have been ten degrees cooler. Goat skins and woven mats served as beds, and were comfortable to the touch. We looked for other details and found creative solutions. For example, looking in the photo below you can see hand carved wooden doors that are ornamental and functional. Look closely at what they have done instead of hinges. Brilliant.
We moved on to the English farm. Represented here is a Yeoman’s estate. Having some affluence and wealth, you find pewter plates and cups, windows, and carved furniture. The hearth was large and functional, and upstairs, one of the residents was sweeping the servant’s room. She took a break to speak with us about life on the farm, about raising sheep and dairy cattle, and making cheese.
Outside, another resident cares for the calf.
It was nearing lunchtime and so we found a lovely knoll with wooden and stone bridges with a meandering creek. We ate homemade Stromboli and asian pears from our own trees. The children found minnows swimming under the stone bridge.
The blacksmith forge was the next stop on our tour and we spent nearly an hour with the engaging and educational blacksmith, Jim. Jim has to his credit reproduction work at Monticello and Montpelier and thoroughly knew his trade. He demonstrated how to make tacks for a reproduction box. He showed how nails, compasses, and assorted tools are made, and how some pieces such as hammers were made with both steel and iron. The steal was stronger and could withstand that constant pounding, while iron would have dented. It appears we will be returning for some of the blacksmith workshops that are offered during the winter. Here is Jim explaining his craft.
The cart brought us to the Irish Farm next. This structure was also carefully dismantled in Ireland and rebuilt here. The main house had only two rooms which they estimate held approximately 6 people. It is amazing how little people’s homes where and how well they made do with the limited space. And recycling was not a cliché – it was something done every day. It was how you survived. Tools, clothing, cooking utensils were all recycled without needing some commercial slogan for encouragement. Here, Lindsey sorts through linens to find the right one to patch holes in two kitchen cloths.
We waved goodbye to the pigs and pigeons on the Irish farm and admired its beautiful setting.
Turning and looking forward another lovely farm filled our view, the German farm.
It was laundry day here, and cabbage was being pounded for sauerkraut in the kitchen. Here, the hearth was raised, unlike on the floor as in the Irish and English farms. In addition, the sitting room was separate from the kitchen. This room was still heated by a fire in the kitchen, but it radiated through a wall that had benches near so that residents could enjoy the warmth. This kept ashes, soot and wood chips out of the sitting room. Polish hens patrolled the yard and barns for insects. And the garden lay beyond, still full of produce, with portions replanted for fall lettuces.
There was still much to see, so we boarded the cart and drove over to the Virginia Homestead.
These homes were brought from Rockingham County, Virginia. They show within how all the cultures have now mingled to form a new society. Taking the best and most practical solutions, applying what works best in the climate and conditions, formed an amalgamation of the nations and created an entirely new one. We visited the one room school-house where we could experience what that was like. Here the teacher explains to us the routines of a one-room school-house.
In the large Virginia house, a docent was able to show us the German influences in the older portion of the home and that with the newer additions, English traditions were incorporated. We found the bedrooms in the Virginia houses small, but the beds themselves looked very comfortable.
The hearth was welcoming and a meal was started.
Outside, there was still more to learn in the yard and garden. Here, stones line a small dug out area where a fire is lit. Above, a pole is suspended by two posts, provided an ideal outdoor area to cook, keeping some of the heat out of the kitchen. We may try this at home.
We also meandered through the Virginia homestead garden and were thoroughly impressed. He had beets that were larger than some pots I own. I was certain they were mangel beets, known for their ability to grow quite large. The experienced gardener showed me that they were standard blood beets. Amazing.
A 1740’s settlement was next on our tour. This was a much smaller house and its front yard was filled with tobacco plants, a major cash crop for the period. Inside, tobacco hung from the ceiling.
Looking around the outside we noticed something odd about the chimney. While the bottom was made with clay and stone, further up its construction was of wood and clay, creating a potential fire hazard. It was also leaning precariously from the house. When we asked, we were told this was deliberate. If the chimney caught on fire, it could simply be pushed away, saving the house.
Now it was time to go home. There were still exhibits to see, such as the Indian Village, but chores at our own farm made it impossible to make the day longer. On the good side, it is a perfect excuse to come back. Very soon.