Oct 122023

If you enjoy exploring small-town museums as much as we do, make it a point to visit the friendly little town of Wytheville, located in western Virginia at the junctions of Interstates 77 and 81. Here you will find not just one or two interesting little museums that are well worth a visit, but five, with exhibits that are sure to please.

One of our favorites was the Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum, housed in an old gas station built in 1926. Located at 1095 Tazewell Street, the museum commemorates the old route known as the Great Lakes to Florida Highway. Before the days of limited access interstate highways it was the main route for travelers going from Ohio to Florida. The original gas station started life as a Texaco station, but in 1934, it switched from selling Texaco products to Esso. Sometime in the1940s the owner also started selling candy and snacks, and by the 1950s the gas station was phased out and it became a small grocery store. Today, displays include artifacts from the old days, newspaper clippings, and exhibits about early-day travel through the region.

The Thomas J. Boyd Museum, located at 295 Tazewell Street, is named after Thomas Jefferson Boyd, known as the Father of Wytheville. Boyd was an attorney, surveyor, built a hotel in town, served as Wytheville’s mayor, and in the Virginia Legislature. During the Civil War a lead mine in the area provided as much as one third of the lead the Confederate Army used for their bullets and Union forces invaded the town twice during the war. The museum’s exhibits focus on local history, the Civil War, and the polio epidemic that devastated Wythe County in 1950. Wytheville was hit hard by the terrible disease. Of the just over 5,500 citizens living there, 184 came down with polio, with 17 of them dying. An iron lung on display at the museum honors those stricken with polio. The museum’s Discovery Corner offers ten interactive stations where children can learn math and science, as well as local history.

The Haller-Gibboney Rock House Museum at 205 E. Tazewell Street was built as the home of Wytheville’s first physician, Dr. John Haller, who served his community as a country doctor, county coroner, and delegate to the Virginia Legislature. The home was put into service as an infirmary and school during the Civil War years, and later as a boarding house when Wytheville became a popular summer resort. Today it is a museum displaying over 1,400 original artifacts and period furnishings that show how life was in the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace and Museum, located at 145 E. Main Street, is one of only eight historic sites across the country dedicated to the interpretation of a First Lady. The museum tells the little-known story of the important role President Woodrow Wilson’s wife played in the White House during World War I, her childhood in Wytheville, and how she earned the titles “The Secret President” and “The First Woman President.”

Located at the Wytheville Training School Cultural Center, 410 East Franklin Street, the African American Heritage Museum preserves the buildings and grounds of the historic Wytheville Training School and the adjoining Benjamin McKinney house. Photographs and exhibits focus on African-American education from Civil War days to the present.

All that and a lot more are in Wytheville and the immediate area, including impressive mansions that are open for tours, the Beagle Ridge Herb Farm, Fort Chiswell Animal Park, winery tours, historical sites, and outdoor adventures. As you can see, it would be easy to spend several days playing tourist here and not get bored.

It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Tinder Street, the first book in my Tinder Street historical series starting just before World War I that will eventually end during the Vietnam War days. This first book in the saga that will take readers from rural farms to a major industrial city in the Midwest, across an ocean where German U-boats lurk waiting for a target to come within range of their deadly torpedoes, to the bloody trench warfare of France, and home again. And of how, back at home, the soldiers of a victorious army try to put their experiences behind them and pick up the pieces of the lives they once had, to look toward a future bright with promise. Lucas Wirtz was one of those soldiers, a simple farm boy who hated the thought of killing but did his duty. A duty that would haunt him long after the last shots were fired.

This is also the story of the simple working-class people who built America. Farmers, factory workers, streetcar conductors, midwives, and public servants. Their joys and sorrows, their wins and losses, and how these people who struggled together to build a better life for themselves and their children changed a place named Tinder Street to Tender Street, a reflection of one family’s devotion to their neighbors.

To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books and audiobooks to foreign countries, only entries with US addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed. After 90 days, unclaimed prizes revert back to the drawing pool for a future contest.

Thought For The Day – I wish open minds came with closed mouths.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

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