- Published on Wednesday, 06 February 2013 11:36
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Residents and visitors frequently tromp across Westmoreland County looking for treasure; visiting antique stores, trooping through the woods and fields, using metal detectors on the county’s many beaches. But the historical gem in Westmoreland County is the Westmoreland County Museum located on Courthouse Square in Montross.
“The museum is very important to Westmoreland County,” said Bryan Chandler, the vice-president of the museum’s board of directors. “We have history that must be preserved and it would be lost without the efforts of the museum.”
“Westmoreland County has a pretty unique history,” Chandler said. We have famous sons who left and did great things. This museum is a repository of many of the things that make Westmoreland County great.”
The museum was founded in 1941 and is the oldest museum in the Northern Neck. One of the museum’s first gifts was an historic portrait of Sir William Pitt, painted by famous artist Charles Wilson Peale in 1768.
The full length portrait, which was commissioned by patriots in Westmoreland County, is filled with patriotic symbolism and is the centerpiece of the museum. Pitt, a member of England’s House of Commons, championed the rights of American colonists in their bitter fight with the British over the Stamp Act.
Carl Flemer, Jr., a museum board member, has generously added 12 more full length portraits to the museum’s collection. Flemer, of the Ingleside Plantation Vineyards, commissioned full sized portraits of the Westmoreland County’s most historic figures including George Washington, Rev. Archibald Campbell, John Marshall, James Monroe, James Madison, Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lighfoot Lee and Robert E. Lee.
In addition to the portraits, the museum proudly has exhibits displaying the history of the county for the past 400 years. Visitors can learn about the county’s rich heritage and see historical artifacts representing Native Americans, as well as sharks’ teeth collected from the Nomini cliffs on the banks of the Potomac River.
There is also a lock of George Washington’s hair, as well as china and furniture from Wakefield, the home where Washington was born. There is pottery from a kiln operated by clandestine potter Morgan Jones in the 17th Century. And, exhibits displaying the history of crabbing, oystering and the early days of Westmoreland County’s seafood industry.
The museum is currently undertaking an effort to expand so it can provide more space for its collections, library, research materials and other programs underlining the county’s heritage. The board of directors of the museum has purchased the nearby Wakefield Furniture Building which was a longtime county fixture.
Over years, the site of the Wakefield Furniture Building has seen many business come and go. It was the site of the county clerk’s office from 1800 to 1904, then a doctor’s office, a drugstore and the site of the Bank of Montross. The current building was built in 1927 as a car dealership and a garage. During World War II, the building was used by the Selective Service and then it became a drugstore again with a bar in the back.
In 1946, the current building was purchased by Hugh Sisson who opened the Wakefield Furniture Store. The Sisson family operated the business for over 50 years. In 2009, the family agreed to sell the building to the Westmoreland County Museum. Now it will have its vitality restored as part of a $500,000 project to complement the museum’s current facility. It will be a highly visible feature of the current Montross downtown revitalization.
Expansion plans call for reproductions of both a general store and a soda fountain much like those that served the county almost 100 years ago. The expansion will also include a gift shop, new exhibition space and meeting rooms. A portion of the new space will be open in time for this summer’s tourist season.
The museum is seeking donations from organizations or individuals to complete the project. Gifts are tax deductible. Information about donating, or about becoming a member of the museum, can be obtained by calling the Westmoreland County Museum at (804) 493-8440.