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Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Richmond


Where Gumbo Was #406

This museum contains exhibits from the time Europeans arrived until modern day. Both the good, bad and ugly are put in historical context.  Since few brochures are available, I took as many photos of exhibit explanations as possible. Lots of ceiling illumination made the exhibits stand out, but difficult to photograph because of reflective glass.

War Horse

Just outside the South entrance to the museum is The War Horse, a memorial to the horses and mules killed during the Civil War, designed by Tessa Pullan of Rutland, England, and given to the historical society by Paul Mellon of Upperville, Virginia.

museum reception areaUpon arrival, I was delighted to see that the large parking lot was free of charge and there were many large trees under which parking was a good idea on this 95 degree sunny day. Entering the lobby, there were no people in line or sitting in the large research library area. The only exhibit in the lobby area was a carriage owned by John Glasgow of Rockbridge County who earned his wealth in the lumber and iron industries. It was one of the best carriages that could be purchased in the 1830’s with removable glass windows, gas lanterns and German Silver trimmings. The carriage was operated by one of his slaves, while another slave was in charge of taking care of the passenger entrance and exit.

museum facade 3

When entering you are greeted by two large murals. One by famous Philadelphia (now Richmond area) artist Hamilton Glass entitled "Bound" which depicts a rope wrapped around the wrists of an African American. The ends of the rope are being pulled in opposite directions by a Union Soldier on the left and a Confederate Soldier on the right. Spirit of Sankofa, a new mural at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, is part of muralist Hamilton Glass' Mending Walls project.

bound handsMending Walls Portrait

Next up was the famous portrait of Pocahontas by Mary Ellen Howe which I assume many of our readers have seen. Pocahontas born Matoaka, known as Amonute, was a Native American woman, belonging to the Powhatan People, notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. She was the daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of a network of tributary tribes in the Tsenacommacah, encompassing the Tidewater region of Virginia.

Pocahontas Portrait

Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom by the colonists during hostilities in 1613. During her captivity, she was encouraged to convert to Christianity and was baptized under the name Rebecca. She married tobacco planter John Rolfe in April 1614 aged about 17 or 18, and she bore their son Thomas Rolfe in January 1615. In 1616, the Rolfes travelled to London where Pocahontas was presented to English society as an example of the "civilized savage" in hopes of stimulating investment in the Jamestown settlement. She became something of a celebrity, was elegantly fêted, and attended a masque at Whitehall Palace. In 1617, the Rolfes set sail for Virginia, but Pocahontas died at Gravesend of unknown causes, aged 20 or 21. She was buried in St George's Church, Gravesend, in England.

Iron Wrist Shaklesbreastplate

1622 Iron Breast Plate from the Tower of London Armory unearthed in Virginia, Iron Wrist Shackles used during the 1600’s on laves.

First Families

Photos of upper class First Families of Virginia who dressed their children as little adults and kept them from mingling with the lower class.

War 1812

War of 1812 Uniform and Weapons when the United States battled England due to trade issues during England’s war with Napoleon amongst other issues.

Civil War ItemsCSS Virginia Quadrant

1861-65 American Civil War Items including a bugle, fife and wet plate camera, CSS Virginia Quadrant used in the March 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads when the CSS Virginia Ironclad ship sank two wooden Union ships.

KKK Hood

1920 hood from the Ku Klux Klan organization that terrorized and performed violence on the freed slaves, but in Virginia the KKK became widespread after WWI against Jews, Catholics, immigrants and organized labor.

Cigar Store Figure

A1924 Cigar Store Figure showing an African dressed in Native American clothing to symbolize both as inferior prior to Virginia passing the1924 Racial Integrity Act labeling Africans and Native Americans both as “colored.”

Belmont Street CarBelmont Street Car InteriorThe only known surviving Richmond trolley, one that ran on the Belmont line as a historic reminder that the Richmond Union Passenger Railway became the first streetcar line in the world powered by electricity, then we seemed to ignore electricity and went to gasoline power.

Old Gas Pump 2Old Gas Pump

, as global conflicts increased in the 20thcentury, poison gas became in use, though banned in 1899 by civilized western nations, gas masks became part of the uniform (these two are from WWI 1917 and Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003), and

Cigarette Products

Who can forget the cigarette culture of Richmond with the commercial of the outfitted cigarette boy who had the tray of products calling out “Call For Philip Morris.” I remember going out dining in Richmond with my in-laws to a Richmond upscale 70’s restaurant where a young lady was dressed to the nines carrying a tray of tobacco products for customers.  Richmond was a prime producer of cigarettes and a display exhibit is prominent in the museum. It reminds me of the Beatles song “I’m So Tired” where John Lennon sings I'm so tired, I'm feeling so upset, Although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette, And curse Sir Walter Raleigh, He was such a stupid get.”

Richmond and Norfolk

Also, coupled with the Richmond collage display of historical products is the City of Norfolk for its seafaring and ship building prominence including Virginia’s native Admiral Richard Byrd’s expedition to the South Pole.

CIA TrowelFallout Shelter

Arriving at the timeline in my history is the Fallout Shelter signs and school practice during the height of the Cold War. The trowel in the photo was used by President Eisenhower to lay the cornerstone at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia (on loan from the CIA Museum Collection) and the Fallout Sign from the Virginia Historical Society Building. I recall vividly my high school periodic practice of ducking under our flimsy desks if we heard our city of Pittsburgh was under atomic attack.I was also trained in my teenage years as a local Fallout Shelter trainee who was supposed to count the number of people allowed in the shelter and then when the number was reached, I was to stop all further safety seekers.Good luck with that.

Juke Box

The Jukebox was in an exhibit of Virginia singers during the 50’s and 60’s.  I remember putting lots of my teenage minimum wage coins into the jukeboxes so I could get a possible dance with a local teen queen. How do millennials do the dances without the jukebox?

Reynolds Aluminum

And who doesn’t still use Reynold’s Aluminum products, though our home still calls it “tin foil.”

Thomas Jefferson HS Satellite

And what school sent a satellite in space? Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia became the first student-built satellite to be sent into space by NASA. The cube satellite took 50 students, seven years to build before launching from NASA’s Wallop Launching Facility on Eastern Shore Virginia in 2013.

Historical Society SealOn the way out you encounter the historical society seal with the COVID masks and the iconic staircase eagle.

Staircase Eagle

museum glass refection

The museum is located at428 North Arthur Ashe Boulevard, Richmond, Virginia 23220. Arthur Ashe Boulevard (also referred to as "the Boulevard") is a historic street in the near West End of Richmond, Virginia between the Carytown/Museum District to the west and the Fan district to the east. Attempts were made to rename the street after Arthur Ashe, a tennis star and social activist who was born and grew up in Richmond, but previous attempts failed until February 2019 when Richmond City Council voted in favor of changing the name to Arthur Ashe Boulevard.  So, on some web sites you will still see North Boulevard versus North Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

museum facade steps

Parking at the museum is free, while Admission is Adults: $10, Seniors (65+): $8,Youth (6 – 17): $5,  Active Military and Veterans: $8.  Also, if you receive State subsistence benefits like Food Stamps (i.e. SNAP) or Women / Infant / Children (WIC) benefits, then your entrance is free if you show your applicable phone app.  The museum is conveniently located at the corner of Kensington Avenue and North Arthur Ashe Boulevard in Richmond’s Museum District, with parking lot entrance on Kensington Avenue. They are accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.

As of today, on their web site, they provide the following notice …Please note, as we open with COVID-19 guidelines, advanced purchase of timed-entry tickets is required and groups/parties of 10 or more are not currently permitted.

Museum photography without flash is permitted. The only drawback was that there was very little paper literature about the museum. When I mentioned that fact to the receptionist, she said most all of it is online, which is how things are going these days to save paper and costs. They also prefer not to accept cash because of COVID and want payment via credit or debit card swipe.

museum facade 2


Images (34)
  • Belmont Street Car Interior
  • Belmont Street Car
  • CIA Trowel
  • Cigar Store Figure
  • Cigarette Products
  • Civil War Items
  • CSS Virginia Quadrant
  • Fallout Shelter
  • First Families
  • Historical Society Seal
  • Historical Society Seal_1
  • Iron Wrist Shakles
  • Juke Box
  • KKK Hood
  • museum facade 2
  • museum facade 3
  • museum facade steps
  • museum facade
  • museum glass refection
  • Old Gas Pump 2
  • Old Gas Pump
  • Reynolds Aluminum
  • Richmond and Norfolk
  • Staircase Eagle
  • Thomas Jefferson HS Satellite
  • War 1812
  • bound hands
  • breastplate
  • Mending Walls Portrait
  • museum reception area
  • Pocahontas Portrait
  • War Horse Signage
  • War Horse
  • bound hands

George G

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