The History Museum of Western Virginia exists to promote an interest in the broad spectrum of history with emphasis on that of southwestern Virginia; to collect, preserve, interpret, and make available materials relating to that history; to sponsor research and publication in the field of regional history; and to provide educational services to people and institutions throughout southwestern Virginia.
As a fledgling institution, the Historical Society of Western Virginia first opened in two steel file cabinets and lobby space in the Roanoke Main Library in 1957 and created the History Museum shortly after. Over the years we went on to occupy various commercial storefronts in downtown Roanoke.
When Roanoke’s Center in the Square opened in 1983 in the renovated 1914 McGuire warehouse in the city market square, the Historical Society and History Museum became one of five nonprofit anchor tenants of this revitalization project. Garnering international and national awards, Center in the Square fulfilled the city’s dream to revive a decaying downtown and boost a flagging cultural community.
The History Museum’s collection comprises the largest repository of material devoted to tracing the human history of Western Virginia, a story that harkens back to our roots as a commonwealth and a nation.
Nearly 6,000 three dimensional objects, 1,300 books, 8,000 photographs, 8,000 documents, and hundreds of maps, slides, postcards and textiles make up the collection of the History Museum of Western Virginia. Some of the items in our collection are:
- Photographs from the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, 1890-1990
- A rare example of “Rawrenoke” beads from which the city later took its name
- Receipts, circa 1750, for the sale of property in the land grant of Col. James Patton, a Scots-Irish sea captain who was instrumental in the development of Augusta County and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses
- Thomas Jefferson’s letter describing his scientific observations on a visit to the Peaks of Otter
- A land grant deed signed by Thomas Jefferson
- A desk, books, and complete set of medical implements used by local surgeon/soldier Colonel William Fleming, who led regiments in the state militia before and during the Revolution
- Lithograph of the Peaks of Otter by noted German romantic artist, Edward Beyer, created during his sojourn in Virginia during the mid-1850s
- A Civil War Order Book from the Virginia-Tennessee campaign
- The “carte de visite” of Robert E. Lee
- A working 1925 Marshall and Wendell baby grand player piano
- Objects representing theatres and cultural life of this era since 1892
- Roanoke’s first retail-sold television
- An antique still from Patrick County
Today the History Museum of Western Virginia continues to be located in Center in the Square and welcomes in excess of 25,000 visitors each year not only from the region, but nearby states and countries as far away as Australia and Korea. The History Museum is halfway through a $3 million renovation plan that began in 2007(Capital Campaign/Crossroad to History). In addition to exhibition galleries and an education workshop, the Museum contains the administrative offices of the Historical Society of Western Virginia and the Watts Library research center.