Hello friends and welcome back to the Frontier Culture Museum for our last installment in the series!
And thank you for your patience: this post took longer than anticipated. Since coming back from my trip to UK, work and other engagements have taken more of my free time than usual.
However, last week I was finally able to revisit the museum and take some pictures of the newly renovated and expanded American exhibit. And as always, it has been a pleasure and a surprise! the museum is constantly updating and expanding its exhibits making it wonderful to visit since there are more things to discover and the staff is always knowledgeable and kind enough to indulge me and the myriad of questions I shamelessly send their way.
If you are new here, the Frontier Culture Museum is an open air living history museum that through its exhibits, portrays the life and challenges of the first settlers that emigrated to the American colonies in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s and 1900s.
It is situated in Staunton, Virginia, in the midst of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. More details about the museum, how to get to it and hours of operation, here.
Today, it is time to explore the “New World” that comprises 5 exhibits: Ganatastwi Native American exhibit from the 1700s, American farms from the 1740s, 1820s, 1850s and an early American Schoolhouse.
1700s Ganatastwi Settlement
This is the first exhibit that welcomes us in the “New World”.
The settlement is a Native American reproduction believed to be representative for an 18th century Native American dwelling in the Blue Ridge area. It shows us how a very small community of Native Americans lived and adapted to the ongoing and expanding migration of the various European settlers.
*wooden racks for drying the animal hides and the communal fire pit.
The dwelling depicts various elements used in the day-to-day life of the native tribes that lived in the broader area surrounding the Great Appalachian Valley and extends between Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.
*a peek inside one of the tents. Notice the wooden elements and the straw hay used for building the hut, for warmth and for keeping the fire alive. A round opening in the roof (not pictured here) allowed for the smoke to escape.
*resting place inside the hut.
No tribal designation has been attributed to the exhibit and that is because the archeological artifacts found in the area could not be matched accurately to a certain tribe or native population.
Secondly, the reason is due to the “ambiguous nature of the archaeological and historical record of American Indians in the region”, as the museum’s curators share with us on their website.
Currently, only about about fifty elders speak the language fluently and they are mostly in Canada.
I highly recommend you to read some of them (just get yourself a cuppa or some coffee to keep you company ;) ). I am constantly amazed at the similarities of the various folkloric tales and stories found around the world, in the multitude of historical eras and time periods, even when they are not concomitant.
Read about the Onondaga/Iroquoian Cosmogony here – a tale of our world coming into being in the Native American interpretation.
We all come from the same source and are united with so many invisible threads through a collective consciousness that transcends the laws of time and space. The folkloric stories and tales are solid proof of that, in my opinion.
1740s American Farm
Settlers of various ethnic backgrounds started arriving in the Appalachian river valleys in the late 1720s. They were emboldened to do so by many reasons. The various land policies instituted in the Virginian Colony at the time specifically aimed at attracting new settlers by promising them land and the opportunity to practice their faiths freely.
Large blocks of land, their sizes unattainable and almost unheard of to peasants, craftsmen and merchants living in Europe, where promised and given to companies or religious groups with the requirement that it be divided and sold to families. Germans, Irish, English, Dutch and others, they all came to the colonies and thus established the rich multicultural bedrock of the future American nation.
The first settlers that arrived in Virginia (British colony at the time) built simple wooden logs comprised of one or two rooms. Most of the work went into clearing the land, making it ready for planting crops and raising livestock.
The cabin furnishing would have been bare and simple. Plain benches and stools served as seats and work surfaces, and only the very minimum necessities. Very few settlers would have had actual tables and chairs.
See down below:
Rest happened on the ground or on a simple bedstead built into the wall. For cooking they would have used a cast iron pot and, possibly, a frying pan whilst the food would have been served on wooden platters or pewter dishes.
Clothing was threaded and made by the women of the household. Line and wool cloth would have been affordable and easy to make and most importantly, even easier to maintain and clean.
*women’s work comprised in tool making as well as cloth making, among other duties such as caring for the overall household and its inhabitants.
As we have already seen in the previous posts, spinning wheels and looms were crucial tools for the women. Being skilled in the art of cloth making was an enterprising and much sought after skill since it allowed the family members to be properly clothed and thus, better prepared for the elements.
Some trails weave and spin in and out of the museum grounds:
1820s American Farm
By the mid 19th Century, many ethnic differences in the local populations begin to fade. Trading, working side by side as neighbors and helping each other establish and strengthen their communities slowly created the basis for a kindred spirit and a more harmonious cultural environment.
United in their plight against the Natives, in their fight against harsh, humid summers or the occasional very cold winters, the settlers joined in the effort to consolidate their grasp on the local land and resolved not only to survive, but thrive.
And by the end of the 19th Century, many of them did.
We notice an increase in the number, diversity and quality of the household items that provided a much more comfortable lifestyle than before.
The homes and farms are furnished now with proper tables and chairs, even beds, the mattresses stuffed with hay or down/feathers for the wealthier families.
In the kitchen, we find a myriad of tools and pots made of various materials: pewter, wood and earthenware. The tables are now covered in hand sewn table linens, sometimes decorated with motifs from the native lands.
The Germans residing in Virginia even added cast-iron heating stoves, clocks and elaborately decorated furniture to their household furnishings.
But many activities of the day-to-day life were still reminiscent of the life the settlers had back home in Europe. They brought with them and followed the same religious traditions and customs as they practiced for centuries before their migration.
Chore distribution stays the same although in the German households, the women and girls work side by side with the men in the fields.
By spinning and weaving, women also continue to make linen and wool that is oftentimes traded and sold in the town’s markets, thus turning it into a profitable endeavor for the family and an extra source of income.
English and French influences persist and permeate on many levels the life of the settlers in the colonies.
The chest of drawers makes an appearance, as well as the tea set with its tea pot and saucers, and with those, the quintessential habit of drinking tea and coffee.
1850s American farm
The road and trail networks that expanded by the end of the 19th Century enabled not only the human migration into the midwest territories, but it also allowed for a more efficient transport of manufactured goods.
The waterways, the trains and roads competed with each other and diversified the products carried and transported, as well as facilitating the shipment of items brought over from Europe.
Towns, villages, farms and dwellings develop and grow.
Linen and textiles no longer need to be painstakingly made by hand at home, rather they can be purchased from the local mercantile store. Small towns expand and local laws enforced.
The access to diverse news and knowledge is facilitated by newspapers, pamphlets and books and distributed by the Postal Service (founded in 1755 with Benjamin Franklin as Postmaster General). If you are curious, you can read more about the oath, duties and responsibilities of a Postmaster here.
*writing desk specific for the time period.
*now, two or even three story homes are built which gives the children of the household their own room to share.
The wealthier and prosperous the family, the more colorful its household furnishings. Since dye is an expensive luxury, most families of lower income would have afforded only whitewash (a solution made of lime and water) and bare, simple wooden furniture.
At the end of the century, the Sears catalog, known at the time as “Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog” sells through its pages household items and products in a variety of shapes, sizes and from multiple categories (from watches and clothing to stoves, buggies, bicycles and even firearms).
He truly becomes the forefather of marketing and advertising as we now know it. Using catchy phrases and bold statements, including “Your money back if you are not satisfied”, the catalog promised quality products at the best price, and made it incredibly convenient to facilitate and connect manufacturers and their products with the customers. Even though they might be hundreds of miles away. Read more about it here.
Early American Schoolhouse
The founders of the United States believed in the importance of educating its citizens. And even though it took over a century since the Declaration of Independence (signed in 1776) for this belief to spread in the colonies and turn into law and policy, by the end of the 19th century most of the residents were able to read the Bible, write and spell their names, sign letters and documents and keep their accounts.
This allowed them to run their households, farms, mills, stores and local government with a modicum of efficiency and a better understanding of their affairs.
The Schoolhouse exhibited at the museum is a reconstruction of the Schuler School that is believed to have been established around the 1840’s by Noah Schuler on his farm in Rockingham County, Virginia. It was graciously donated to the Museum by the Rockingham County Public Schools.
Improvised one-room schools were found all across the nation as soon as the 18th century. But the most important and pervasive education happened at home: from fathers to sons, and mothers to daughters; from neighbors helping each other out, and in the midst of the religious communities.
As we can see, education was a simple and straightforward affair. Basic math, like addition and subtraction was taught because it was the most practical. You need to be able to count your crops and your livestock.
Then reading and writing, to be able to read and understand important passages from the Bible; because religious life was the cornerstone, the bedrock and the light of fire that ignited in the midst of the communities that had traveled for thousands and thousands of miles to this new, strange and wild land.
It must have been this determination, this grit, that set the nation on its path of prosperity, cultural advancement and rapid economic growth.
It has been fascinating to me to read and delve into the historic past of the American nation. Relatively new, compared to other nations of the world, we are fortunate in learning about the early American nation because we have access to lots of information and artifacts pertaining to its birth and its formation.
I am also very grateful for the Museum!
It is an oasis of peace, tranquility, history and a depository of a long-lost way of life, of its simplicity and hardship. And I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into time with me.
I am leaving you now with some last photos taken around the Museum and with a glimpse of the now whitewashed walls of the English Farm (long promised!) and its lovely pond.
If you are in the area or traveling, I hope you won’t hesitate to spend the day at the Museum!
Just bring some comfortable shoes with you and a curious attitude. The museum grounds are easy to walk but there are also carts that can take you around from farm to farm.
Pets are not allowed due to the many animals that live on the Museum’s premises.
Many activities and events happen at the Museum all throughout the year. Check them out here for 2019.
That’s it, my friends!
I hope you’ve enjoyed it and if so, please share the posts with your loved ones and drop me a note down below.
Until next time!