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Southwest Virginia Museum brings history to life

April 29th, 2014 6:15 pm by Amanda J. Vicars

Southwest Virginia Museum brings history to life

When it comes to history at the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park, "we think outside the block," park manager Sharon Ewing said with a grin.

"We say that because the museum is located on a block here in Big Stone Gap, Va., and rather than always hosting informative lectures on site, we like to get folks out to historic sites. We plan and implement historic bus tours of things like the Wilderness Road where we actually trace the route that the settlers [took] when they [first came to the region]," Ewing explained.

"We also do a coal camp tour where we take folks out to various coal camps, and this year, we're excited to be doing our first overnight tour to King's Mountain." Ewing said this bus tour will begin at militia leader William Campbell's grave, travel down to the militia's mustering grounds in Abingdon, Va., ending at King's Mountain, S.C., before heading back up to Big Stone Gap.

As an historical state park, the Southwest Virginia Museum acquired its building - an 1890s Victorian stone mansion - and the core of their collection in 1946. They opened to the public in 1948.

"We're the 12th state park to be opened in Virginia," Ewing said. "[And, we're the longest] continually operated historic site anywhere in western Virginia."

"This is our 66th year of operation," Ewing added with pride. "We, in ourselves, are historic in that."

Inside the museum itself, "everything that we do in our exhibits interprets the history and culture of the [Southwest Virginia area]," Ewing elaborated. "Everything from the early pioneer history [to] Native American history up through the period of the finding of the coal and the 'bust and boom' era of the 1800s."

Ewing said the historic museum also features rotating exhibits which interpret eras of history up through the 20th century. Aside from the exhibits, the Southwest Virginia Museum offers programs which allow the community a chance to get up close and personal with history.

"We do everything from quilt shows to after-school traditional music classes in conjunction with Crooked Road (Virginia's Heritage Music Trail)," Ewing said. And, "our Wise JAMS programs [allow children to] learn guitar, banjo and fiddle."

"We [also have] a children's summer series that's based upon historic time periods," Ewing continued. Kids learn about how people lived in certain eras, what their occupations were, how they had fun, etc.

Ewing said as a lifelong resident of Southwest Virginia and a museum employee since the 1980s, she has seen many exhibits, programs and festivals - like the upcoming Gathering in the Gap Music Festival - draw in crowds, but none like the ones expected to throng to the region after the recently-filmed "Big Stone Gap" movie is released.

The movie, based on the book by Adriana Trigiani, includes a scene filmed at the Southwest Virginia Museum. Ewing said readers and spectators alike already come to the museum because of "Adri," as she referred to Trigiani, but the historic site - alongside the entire town - is preparing for an influx of visitors once the movie hits theaters. It's an "exciting thing for the museum as well [as the region]," Ewing said. "It will be good for everyone."

Ewing hopes that participation in museum programming will continue to rise in the future, as things like the Gathering in the Gap Music Festival and "Big Stone Gap" movie shed light on the historical importance of the Southwest Virginia region. Our programs remind people "to stop in [their] busy lives and participate in these kinds of traditions," she said.

The Southwest Virginia Museum is located at 10 West 1st Street North in Big Stone Gap. For seasonal hours of operation, admission prices or more information, visit or call 276-523-1322.

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