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Luray Valley Museum, Virginia


Where Gumbo Was #371

Luray is famous for its impressive caverns, subject of one of my earlier TravelGumbo blogs.  In addition to the Cooter’s Museum (based on The Dukes of Hazzard TV Series) and Toy Junction Museum (also a previous TG blog), is the historical Luray Valley Museum.  It includes the indoor museum and outdoor heritage village, but this blog is focused on the indoor museum.  The museum exhibits a collection of Shenandoah and Luray Valley artifacts from the 1750’s to the 1920’s. 

Luray Valley Museum Entrance

The town of Luray is located in Page County which was named for John Page, Governor of Virginia from 1802 to 1805 who was a friend and closest college classmate of Thomas Jefferson. The town was started by Willian Staige Marye in 1812, a descendant of a family native to Luray, France which is a very short distance directly west of Paris and Versailles.

Long Rifles

The area was slow to be settled because of the Blue Ridge Mountain barrier, but opened up when a Native American hunting trail was discovered and the Great Wagon Road (Valley Pike, now Route 11) became a useful path to the Shenandoah Valley.  Most of the tolerated settlers were Mennonites of German or Swiss origin from Pennsylvania while English settlers from Virginia were not so welcomed by the Native American tribes in the area. 

Exhibit items include …

Flask Casting Stoves

Early 1800’s flask casting, heating and cooking stoves with patriotic motifs.  The one in the center features a very small face of George Washington, a harp, and on the side was an eagle.
 Schweinfurt Pottery

Collection of redware and earthenware pottery from profound and noted potter John George Schweinfurt (originally from Baden Germany). 

 Printer's Cabinet

Local 19th century Printer’s Cabinet from Henkel’s shop that stored metal letters, typeset and printing blocks for books and leaflets.  In 1806, two young men, Ambrose Henkel and his brother Solomon, started one of the first German language presses in the South. The press began as an amateur operation in the New Market home of their father, Paul, a prominent Lutheran minister.

The first publications were crudely printed and had blurry illustrations, but the brothers eventually became skilled printers.  Many of the people living in the Valley of Virginia shared a German heritage, and the early Henkel materials were printed in German and then later in English. The Henkel Press eventually became an important source for Lutheran devotional material, newspapers, song books, and children's books.

Henkel Proof Press 
Henkel’s 1840 Proof Press from Ohio.

Henkel Print 2Henkel PrintHenkel's ItemA few items from Henkel’s Printer company.
 Shenandoah Music Instruments
Shenandoah Valley Music instruments.

Freight Wagon 2 
1810 Virginia Freight Wagon used to transport Shenandoah Valley goods to Baltimore using a 6-horse team with bells.

Military Items 2Military Items 3Military Items

Early military weaponry, uniforms and memorabilia from Civil War and prior.  After the Civil War was over, each Confederate soldier had to pledge an oath to the Union and received a pardon certificate.

Oath CertificateOath
 Monetary Notes 2Monetary Notes

Money notes when each state had their own currency.  Each state having their own currency was troublesome when traveling through many states. I remember having many pouches of different European currency before the Euro and having to buy and exchange currencies at banks and border money outlets.

Military Uniform

Ellsworth Zouave Child Uniform 

1860 uniform of a soldier’s child serving with Ellsworth’s Zouaves (modeled after French light infantry units).  Union Colonel Ellsworth was President Lincoln’s body guard and the first casualty of the Civil War in 1861.  He was killed while attempting to capture a Secessionist banner flying over the Marshall House Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia.  “Avenge Ellsworth” became a Northern battle cry during the Civil War.
 Dog Powered Butter Churn

1881 Dog Powered Butter Churn.  Dogs were also used to power other light farm machinery like grindstones and corn shellers.  They earned their keep by doing some work instead of just playing, sleeping and eating.


Belsnickel Christmas Masks

Belsnickel Christmas Masks.  Belsnickeling was brought to the Valley by German immigrants and was also known as Kris Kringeling.  It involved residents wearing masks during Christmas season and knocking on local neighbors’ doors.  Belsnickelers would bring small gifts and fruit while the residents would provide food and drink, then try to guess who was behind the masks before the masqueraders would move on to another home.  According to the museum tag, these masks were Santa Claus, a dapper gentleman and the devil.  Imagine residents today inviting unknown masked men into their homes.

Coffee Mill
 Enterprise Mfg Company Iron Coffee Mill Grinder for General Stores and personal home use.

 Spool Cabinet

Brainerd & Armstrong Spool Cabinet.

Child Sleigh & DollChild Sleigh and Doll

Children’s Toy Sleighs and Handmade plush dolls.  Early versions of Cabbage Patch dolls and Beanie Babies.

General Store Soda

Coca Cola and Grape Julep Syrup dispensers to be added to sparkling soda in general stores.

 Redemption in a Bottle

1922 Redemption in a Bottle.  Crafted by Clarence Gray from Pine Grove Hollow when he was imprisoned in a cellar for 30 days for striking an elderly gentleman in front of the church.  Upon his release, he said he reflected on his misdeeds, was a changed man, gave up drinking and became a productive member of the community.

Visitor Information 

Luray has no train service; its old station is now a visitor center and train museum. Travel from Washington, DC (about 90 miles) is by car, or by a bus and taxi combo.

The Shenandoah Valley, where Luray is located, has many other attractions nearby. Adventures such as horseback riding, river canoeing, ziplining, cycling and wilderness camping are plentiful. Local vineyards conduct wine tasting and Luray borders the Shenandoah National Park which has many more natural sites and attractions for the entire active family. 

The Luray Valley Museum is to the Luray Caverns entrance. Tickets cover both Caverns and Museum;  $30 adult, $27 seniors (62+), and $15 children (6-15)  as well as group and military discounts. All are available on line.

If you get there early in the morning, I suggest you buy your ticket before the late morning and afternoon crowds queue up.  The museum is generally open from 9AM to 6PM, with a little longer hours in the summer and shorter hours in the winter.


Images (29)
  • Belsnickel Christmas Masks
  • Child Sleigh & Doll
  • Child Sleigh and Doll
  • Coffee Mill
  • Dog Powered Butter Churn
  • Ellsworth Zouave Child Uniform
  • Flask Casting Stoves
  • Freight Wagon 2
  • Freight Wagon
  • General Store Soda
  • Henkel Print 2
  • Henkel Print
  • Henkel Proof Press
  • Henkel's Item
  • Long Rifles
  • Luray Valley Museum Entrance
  • Military Items 2
  • Military Items 3
  • Military Items
  • Military Uniform
  • Monetary Notes 2
  • Monetary Notes
  • Oath Certificate
  • Oath
  • Printer's Cabinet
  • Redemption in a Bottle
  • Schweinfurt Pottery
  • Shenandoah Music Instruments
  • Spool Cabinet

George G

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