- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2006

Long before it was one of the fastest-growing and wealthiest counties in America, Loudoun County, Va., was an agricultural hub and witness to Civil War battles.

That rich history is recounted at the Loudoun Museum, a collection tucked into a historic building in the heart of Leesburg. Household items, maps, books and documents all tell Loudoun’s story.

“We have about 7,000 items,” says Karen Quanbeck MacLeod, the museum’s executive director.

The entire collection is not on display at once, but is rotated through in themed exhibits, Ms. MacLeod says.

The biggest part of the museum is devoted to “Centuries of Change,” which tells the story of Loudoun’s history. “Centuries of Change” starts at the beginning, when American Indians inhabited the land.

Artifacts and documents explain Loudoun’s role in the Revolutionary War. There are notes from Thomas Jefferson’s 1808 journal, as well as Continental currency.

The county’s agricultural history is shown in items such as spinning supplies and farm log books. The Civil War damaged much of Loudoun’s agriculture, but the county quickly recovered, and by 1870 the wheat harvest was double that of 1860s, even with a lack of horses and equipment, the museum placards explain.

The museum gives a local view of Virginia and American history events. In the part of the exhibit devoted to slavery in the county, materials tell how the western part of the county — with a large German and Quaker population — was quite divided over the issue.

There is a large case with Civil War artifacts, including bullet shells and Union parole papers from a Confederate prisoner of war. Materials also recount the running battles in southern Loudoun, as well as the “Burning Raid” of November 1864 that burned hundreds of farms in the county.

Younger visitors will appreciate the Discovery Room, which replicates a 19th-century home. There is a hearth and utensils in the kitchen. There are costumes to wear and household items to use. Children can do “chores” as well as play with Colonial-era playthings. The room was created using the book “John Janney’s Virginia: An American Farm Lad’s Life in the Early 19th Century,” as a guide, says Ms. MacLeod.

There is still time this fall to enjoy the newly opened Colonial Children’s Garden just outside the museum. The garden, installed in August and dedicated in late September, features herbs, flowers, shrubs and trees that are native to the United States or imported by the first settlers, Ms. MacLeod says.

Families can explore the garden and Discovery Room as well as stuff their own scarecrow, help paint a mural or create a leaf collage at the museum’s Fall Fest Family Day on Saturday. The free event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., is one of several family open house days held annually.

The museum’s newest temporary exhibit, titled “Have Me Decently Buried,” opened last week. Curator Eric Larson says he got the idea for the spooky collection after hearing the legend of Loudoun’s mystery tombstone.

“There was a duel between a Mr. Mason and Mr. McCarty back in 1819,” says Mr. Larson. “Mason died in the duel. He was buried in Leesburg, but his family had him dug up and buried again in Richmond. His tombstone never went with him. It was used in the town pharmacy [to grind compounds], then it disappeared in the 1950s. It ended up in the basement of the Loudoun Times-Mirror.”

Items telling this story will be among the spooky items display, Mr. Larson says.

“After all, this building used to be a funeral home,” he says.

When you go:

Location:The Loudoun Museum is located at 16 Loudoun St. SW in Leesburg, Va.

Directions: Take the Dulles Greenway to Route 15 business. Take a right on King Street and a left on Loudoun Street.

Hours: The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday and by appointment on Tuesday.

Admission: Adults, $3; students, teachers and seniors, $1; children younger than 4 are admitted free.

Parking: Metered and garage parking are available nearby.

More information: 703/777-7427 or www.loudounmuseum.org

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