Eavesdropping on the past

Few of us can really appreciate the political, economic, and religious agitation that inspired our European ancestors to leave their native countries forever and travel to a completely foreign, undeveloped, often hostile land half a world away. Fortunately, however, we have the Frontier Culture Museum where modern folks can catch a glimpse of that very special moment in history. 

Only at this unique museum can one duck into an authentic thatched-roof stone house from County Tyrone in 1730’s Northern Ireland and listen in on a family discussion of the hardships created by the trade restrictions England has imposed on the Irish linen they make and sell to pay the rent on this tenant farm. In addition to this Scotch-Irish farm, the museum includes the emigrant experience of 17th century English and 18th century German farmers, as well as the blending of these cultures in the New World with that of African slaves on a pre-Civil War farmstead in the Shenandoah Valley 

This living history returns to the frontier this weekend as costumed interpreters once again populate the museum’s historic farms for the coming season. Visitors can wander at their own pace among these original farmsteads as interpreters discuss issues of the day and demonstrate the particular lifestyles, customs, traditions, beliefs, foodways, and farming practices of people of the historic time period.

If all of this sounds “nice” but not like something the kids would get into, think again. My two teenaged boys were surprised to find they actually enjoyed this trip back in time. Interpreters are eager to include kids in their discussions and know just what might interest them… like Robert the Cotswold sheep, better known as Bob Marley because his wool grows like dreadlocks. And on weekends, middle and high school kids with a special interest in history also serve as costumed interpreters and address particular interests of kids both then and now.

The Visitor Center extends the historic journey with a brief introductory film that sets the scene for the self-guided farm tour. “Away, I’m Bound Away,” an exhibit about Virginia’s role in the great westward migration of the early 19th century, is also displayed in the Visitor Center. Kids will especially enjoy an interactive computer game accompanying this display that allows them to take their own trip up the Oregon Trail. 

So if you’re looking for a fascinating way to spend a family day, my advice would be, Go west young man (or young woman) to the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton.


The Frontier Culture Museum hosts living history tours beginning March 9 from 9am-5pm daily. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children 6-12, $7.50 for seniors, $7 for students 13-18 and college students with ID. The museum is on Rt. 250 in Staunton just off I-81 exit 222.

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