- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Before the nation’s capital was even a gleam in some civic-minded 18th-century gentleman’s eye, people had come to the Shenandoah Valley. They were attracted by its rich soil, the availability of game, and the allure of the great river that rolled its way through.

Now, a new undertaking, the $20 million Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, seeks to provide a glimpse of the history and experiences of those who came to the area.

A collection of artifacts and implements, high-tech computer “interactive” opportunities and re-creations of centuries-old spaces allows visitors to move back and forth in time to understand the scope and significance of the valley’s story.

Rich in Civil War history, the valley is home to a diverse group of peoples who have added their own stories to the mix. Over the years, the efforts of Indians, Europeans, Africans and now new immigrants from far-flung sections of the world have helped to shape the land and mold the character of the valley itself.

Thanks to a bequest by Julian Wood Glass Jr., who died in 1992 and whose ancestors helped to settle the area, the story of the people and the places they built is told within the soaring space of the museum’s Shenandoah Valley Gallery, whose natural wood beams and recorded sounds of bird song help keep visitors tied to the land.

Other galleries showcase decorative and fine arts, and there’s also a gallery whose exhibits will change every few months. Well-informed docents, strategically placed, add their own takes on the materials.

Sprinkled throughout the gallery are state-of-the art touch-screen monitors that give visitors access to historic photographs and films, music, and oral histories collected from valley residents. An exhibit in one corner of the gallery features implements from the valley’s agricultural life, which included the production of wheat, hemp (used in making rope) and other goods.

“The thing I love about this building is that there’s something for everyone,” says museum Director Jennifer Esler. “You’ve got history, architecture and crafts all in one place. Then you can go out and see the valley with a different pair of eyes.”

• • •

Much of the museum’s allure is dependent on the setting. The design, by Michael Graves and Associates, complements Glen Burnie, a historic house on the property, and gives a nod as well to the many old barns that still dot the countryside. Black Angus cattle still roam regularly on a neighboring field.

“I think it’s phenomenal,” says visitor Ben Schwabenbauer, a fifth-grade teacher visiting from Olean, N.Y. “The architecture goes right along with the history of the area, but it chronicles the history of the home, also.”

Don’t be daunted by the vastness of it all; the museum is also marked by several idiosyncratic “structures within structures” that allow visitors to experience a degree of intimacy and familiarity within the larger space.

“The architecture is really beautiful,” says Rebecca Brannon of nearby Stephens City, Va., who came to the museum recently with son Kyle, 13. “I love how everything is so natural.”

Together, architecture and iconography help construct a sense of time and place in the Shenandoah Valley Gallery, where the mountains, the river and the predominantly agrarian lifestyle are presented as key characters in the Shenandoah experience. Quilt motifs are everywhere.

• • •

To begin your visit to the gallery, start with the orientation video in one of Graves’ structures within structures, this one a hexagonal space reminiscent of one of early America’s polygonal barns. The physical iconography of the valley — hills and mountains, fields and river — is obvious. And a sense of the valley’s character — home, family, hard work and church — is clear from the scenes of quilting, cooking and outdoor play.

There are stories, too, in the gallery, of black settlers and of the Scotch-Irish, English and German immigrants who made their way here.

One story is that of the Henry family, blacks whose forbear Patrick Henry (no relation to the revolutionary firebrand) was appointed caretaker of Natural Bridge by Thomas Jefferson himself. The family’s records, including manumission papers and letters, reveal something of what their lives were like.

Unfortunately, no representative pictures of the Henrys exist — because, as the panel explains, few blacks of that time were able to afford to hire a portrait artist or, later on, a photographer.

Other stories of both blacks and whites can be gleaned through computer access to the University of Virginia’s Valley of the Shadow project (valley.vcdh.virginia.edu), which compares life in the Southern community of Augusta County, Va., with life in the North’s Franklin County, Pa., before, during and after the Civil War. The communities are about 160 miles apart and are similar in geography and agriculture but were separated by slavery.

But black faces are absent from the museum’s orientation video, and the black presence in the valley is largely ignored within the gallery itself. Yet black people made up 15 percent of the valley’s population at the start of the Civil War and continue to live in the valley today, though their percentage of the population has diminished.

The museum makes you dig a little harder to find their stories and those of their descendants. If you happen to click on the interactive screen to find out about hemp production, for example, you’ll find that workers in the early stages were black. (The source and date of the film is not identified.) Later, there is a mention of an 1896 hanging of a black man by a white mob, although the word lynching is not used.

According to the interpretive panel, some of the Henry family ended up in Liberia in 1849, as part of the efforts of the American Colonization Society to colonize black people there. Not mentioned at the museum, but interesting to note, is Winchester’s contribution to the American Colonization Society, which was founded in 1816. Some of those who sat on its founding board were Winchester residents, and Winchester established its own auxiliary society just a year after the national society was founded.

Writing in the Journal of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society in 1996, Deborah Lee noted that unlike many other branches of the ACS, the Frederick Auxiliary “stressed benevolence and emphasized the equality and historical integrity of the African race.”

Clearly, though, many white residents of the valley held a less tolerant view, as revealed by a glance through the Valley of the Shadow project.

“The same moral law by which we hold our negroes as slaves, justifies us in making slaves of all negroes,” wrote the Staunton Vindicator in March 1860.

There is also little mention of the Underground Railroad, though there is evidence that one of the major routes through Virginia ran through the valley.

The museum does note the existence of another kind of underground railroad, which functioned during the Civil War to get white sons out of the Confederate military draft.

• • •

Few sections of the country were as touched by the Civil War as the Shenandoah Valley. Winchester changed hands countless times and was marked by the divided loyalties that characterized most of the region.

So much of the military maneuvering is depicted by various other museums in the area — among them the Old Courthouse Civil War Museum and Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters Museum, both in Winchester, and Belle Grove Plantation in Middletown — that the museum tries to provide a more personal view, concentrating instead on the effects of the war on the home front.

Despite the pleasant nature of the valley, migration and movement characterize much of its story. Both before and after the Civil War, valley people kept moving west, following the frontier. During the 1840s, the counties west of the Blue Ridge lost 71,000 residents. Their migration is revealed by the ubiquity farther west of valley-style houses (two-story, center-hall structures), which, because they became common in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, were called “I-houses.”

Visitors to the Shenandoah Gallery can play around with their own models of an I-house at the museum, adding decorative elements or changing the rooflines and front porches to make them distinctive.

Meanwhile, those who remained in the valley after the war sought to diversify. Apples were introduced to the region in 1871. A host of products, from Shenandoah Apple Candy to Route 11 Potato Chips, indicate the historical sweep of efforts to get the region going again after the Civil War.

The move to modernize is evident in a re-creation of a 1930s kitchen in the Shenandoah Gallery. Contrasting that with the re-creation of an 1830s-era kitchen nearby reveals how far the valley people who remained had come since earlier days, especially once President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to the region.

• • •

Adjacent to the Shenandoah Gallery but still in the main building is a gallery devoted to the decorative arts of the region.

Picture a tall clock case made right here in Winchester by a master craftsman. Imagine a watch stand finely chased with silver and a self-portrait by a folk artist. There are examples of pottery, textiles and musical instruments. You’ll even find a desk filled with secret messages, constructed by Revolution War-era Loyalist John Shearer.

“You heard the stories. Now you can see some of the things that were in their worlds,” Mrs. Esler says.

Housed in the Glass Gallery, adjoining, are pieces from Mr. Glass’ personal collection, including landscapes; portraits; and works by James McNeill Whistler, Gilbert Stuart and Rosa Bonheur.

On the other side of the grand Shenandoah Valley Gallery is a smaller space devoted to the furnished miniatures collection of Robert Lee Taylor, a longtime resident of Glen Burnie who was also responsible for its extensive gardens. Mr. Taylor, who came to work on the gardens and stayed on as curator and caretaker until his death in 2000, started amassing his miniatures collection in the 1970s.

A re-creation of Tara, the home plantation of the novel and film “Gone With The Wind,” is quite popular with museum visitors, as is the tiny bottle of real champagne.

• • •

Mr. Glass, as everyone calls him still, began amassing his own collection of art and artifacts at an early age, embarking on a grand tour of Europe nearly every year. Some of his acquisitions, along with family heirlooms, can be found in Glen Burnie, which he maintained as a summer getaway until his death.

Inside Glen Burnie, cabinets in the breakfast room are filled with fine china. That’s 1920s wallpaper from Mr. Glass’ New York apartment, and there’s an 1876 burled walnut piano that’s almost identical to one that had been built for Frederic Chopin.

The specially constructed drawing room houses some of Mr. Glass’ art collection, including works by the 18th-century painters Rembrandt Peale, George Romney and John Singleton Copley and the 19th century’s Whistler.

Outside, formal gardens provide 14 “rooms” of plantings, as well as more than a few surprises, including a “grand allee” of flowering crab apples that uses forced perspective to create the illusion of distance. They were created by Mr. Glass and Mr. Taylor beginning in the early 1960s.

Meanwhile, an assortment of outbuildings gives testament the two men’s sense of whimsy. There are an Asian-style teahouse, the Pink Palladian Pavilion and Folly 14. A planned Gothic cathedral was never built.

The two simply didn’t have the time.

That’s no wonder, given the variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers, plants, and statuary ranging from Apollo to a Confederate general.

It’s enough to keep visitors coming back more than once.

“We’ve come by for years and always wondered what was on the other side of the wall,” Mr. Schwabenbauer says. “I suspect we’ll be coming back again.”

WHAT: Museum of the Shenandoah Valley

WHERE: 901 Amherst St., Winchester

WHEN: Museum closed April 30 because of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. Otherwise, open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday year round; Glen Burnie House and Gardens open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through Nov. 30.

TICKETS: Adults $6-$12; seniors, groups of 10 or more and children 7 to 18 $5-$10; children under 6 free.

INFORMATION: 540/662-1473, 888/556-5799, www.shenandoah museum.org

Festival includes 2 parades

It’s apple-blossom time in the Shenandoah Valley, and the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival begins Tuesday in Winchester and runs through May 1. More than 30 events are planned, including dances, parades, a 10K run and the Cole Bros. Circus.

Although Washington state and even China have supplanted the Shenandoah Valley in apple production, nostalgia-minded folk will remember a time when the region was known as the “apple capital of the world.”

It started back in 1924, when a group of Winchester residents decided to come up with ways to promote the Shenandoah Valley in general and the apple industry in particular. They came up with the Apple Blossom Festival, which in its early years was planned to coincide with the time when the trees would actually begin to bloom. These days, because the festival has become so popular, organizers simply set a date and hope for bloom.

The centerpiece of all the events in festival has always been the Grand Feature parade; the one in 1925 included more than 100 floats, among them a large red apple created by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge 867. That’s the one you’ll see today, in a somewhat different incarnation, in front of Kimberly’s Gifts & Fine Linens on North Braddock Street.

Ever wondered what it takes to “float” a float? Patience, money and time — lots of it.

“This is my favorite holiday and my favorite time of year,” says Jodi Vaught of Stephens City, Va. She’s been spending her Saturdays along with a bunch of other volunteers ripping, stripping and wiping some of the festival floats, which include a Ferris wheel and a pioneer wagon.

“There’s such fellowship here. And then we get to sit and watch them go by,” she says.

Each year, volunteers spend their pre-festival weekends refurbishing existing floats. Some years, they’ll even build some of their own, such as the large tricycle float that folks built a couple of years ago. The Apple Blossom Festival has about a dozen floats of its own; the rest come from area businesses and organizations. This year, they expect about 50.

Pride of place probably goes to the floats for the festival queen and her court. This year, they’re getting new “paper” (which these days is actually plastic), fringe and trim. The float committee has also been experimenting with special effects — apple blossoms on the floats that give a 3-D effect for folks on the sidelines.

Apple Blossom Week is crammed with events (see www.thebloom.com for a full schedule), but everyone waits for the two parades. Yes, two: The 76th annual firefighters parade, which organizers say is the largest and oldest firefighters parade in the world, gets under way in Old Town at 5 p.m. April 28 — and the Grand Feature parade begins at 1:30 p.m. April 30, complete with the apple-blossom queen and her court, celebrity marshals, and, of course, floats.

There’s more to do in city

Visitors will find plenty to do in Winchester, which boasts a 45-block section on the National Register of Historic Places.

A drive around town will take you past grand Victorian houses, early 20th-century mission-style homes and a number of antebellum structures.

These include Union Gen. Philip Sheridan’s headquarters, once the Elks Lodge and now home to Kimberly’s Gifts & Fine Linens at 135 N. Braddock St., a shop specializing in high-end linens, stationery, candles and other domestic accouterments. A re-creation of a float from an early Apple Blossom Festival is perched outside. Call 540/662-2195.

Downtown, Loudoun Street features a pedestrian mall filled with shops, restaurants and cafes. There’s a museum here, as well: If you’ve recharged and are ready for a more detailed version of the Civil War, check out the Old Court House Civil War Museum in the Frederick County Courthouse at 20 N. Loudoun St. Call 540/542-1145 or visit www.civilwarmuseum.org.

You will also find the old Taylor Hotel building at 225 N. Loudoun St., now awaiting renovation. In its time — from 1755 until it was closed in 1905 — the hotel hosted George Washington, John Marshall, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, and during the Civil War served as a temporary headquarters for Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

There’s a bookstore, too: The Winchester Book Gallery at 185 N. Loudoun St. (540/667-3444) is filled with volumes on the history of the region.

Just a short drive away, at the corner of South Loudoun Street and Valley Avenue, Gaunt’s Drug Store at 1 Valley Ave. (540/662-0383) offers an old-time-corner-drugstore experience. In the days when drugstores were family-owned and -run businesses, Gaunt’s was a neighborhood fixture. Today, you can still get Geritol, Porter’s Liniment or a bottle of bay rum. Need flavorings for your hard-candy recipe? Gaunt’s has them. It’s also got horehound candy, remedies from Father John and Rusto lotion for poison ivy.

If you’re lucky, owner Harold “Doc” Madagan will put some Patsy Cline on the boombox. The singer worked here as a waitress during the 1950s, back when the storage room in the rear was a soda fountain. (The soda fountain closed in 1955.)

“People here get personalized service,” says Mr. Madagan, who took over after the Gaunts retired in 1973 but kept the store’s name. “I know 98 percent of the people who come in here.”

He’ll order just about anything you can name. But many folks stop by just for the conversation.

If you’re looking for a sandwich or piece of apple pie, Lynette’s Triangle Diner (“Square meals since 1948”) is just around the corner at 27 W. Gerrard St., with a jukebox selector on every table. Call 540/667-7738.

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