Montgomery Museum brings town’s roots to life

By Aaron Atkins

CHRISTIANSBURG — A few steps onto the grounds at the Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center at 300 South Pepper Street, just two blocks from the Courthouse, is all one needs to catch a glimpse of Christiansburg’s humble roots.

The original town ledger, as displayed behind glass at the Montgomery Museum on Pepper Street. The ledger is written by hand, using a broad, sweeping cursive font. On the left page is a drawing of the downtown area, Main Street and town square. The same areas serve similar purpose today. Photo by Aaron Atkins.

Celebrating its 30th year of collecting images, artifacts, information and lore, chronicling the founding, growth and expansion of Christiansburg, Blacksburg and greater Montgomery County, the museum is a one-of-a-kind in that it singularly offers exclusively Mongtomery County artifacts and history.

The building, which houses the museum, is an artifact in itself. The 160-year-old structure, which sits atop its Pepper Street hill, began its life in 1852, built to house a Presbyterian minister. The property itself dates back even further to the late 1700s, and it’s changed hands a few times over the years before settling into its role as a window into the past. It was purchased in 1983 and began its life as a museum, when its purchasers started collecting artifacts relevant to the history of the county.

Photos and artifacts from Christiansburg’s various courthouses are exhibited in a room at the Montgomery Museum. Photo by Aaron Atkins.

The museum and its staff house a plethora of detailed information on the founding, growth and development of the town of Christiansburg and Montgomery County.

Sue Farrarr, who has been a part of the museum for four years and acts as its executive director, said the museum may have a few things in the works throughout the year for its 30th anniversary, but as of now nothing is set in stone.

“We want to recognize the founders of the town in some way that will draw people in and get them interested in its history, but we’re still in the planning stages as of now,” Farrarr said.

The museum, whose mission statement speaks of preserving, exhibiting and interpreting Montgomery County history, the display of art and the encouragement of artists,

Nowadays, the museum showcases both historic and contemporary artwork as well as its artifacts, with a small, yet compelling rotation of works on display. The gallery rotates seven times annually, with local artists and art students, including students at Christiansburg High School, featured for around two months.

The museum’s biggest draw of the year, which saw over 500 patrons in 2012, is the museum’s Heritage Day celebration. This year is expected to be bigger, and will take place Aug. 24.

A textiles exhibit is on display at the Montgomery Museum. Included is a full loom, on left, which is expected to be fully armed and operational by Aug. 24, when the Museum will host its annual Heritage Day celebration. Photo by Aaron Atkins.

Right now, an exhibit is on display showcasing the Montgomery County Courthouse’s many facades, beginning with its first nontemporary brick courthouse in 1808. Lewis Miller, the carpenter and artist whom the museum is named for — known for drawing humorous scenes of the day that depicted life in the area with a sense of humor — drew a scene which depicts the town’s original 1808 courthouse. A new, larger building was built in 1836. A larger building was constructed in 1909, another in 1979, which operated prior to the current building which opened late last year.

In another room a textile exhibit is on hand, complete with a full wooden loom.

“We’re trying to have the loom ready and fully functional by Heritage Day.

The building itself is in need of a few repairs. Farrarr pointed out that in an effort to maintain the historical integrity and accuracy of its facade, the museum had molds of the original brick cast, to that any replacement brick added to the structure would match the existing brick’s color and texture.

The museum is close to securing the funds it needs to replace its aged and weathered roof, but is still on the lookout for a suitable bid for the work.

“We don’t have a contractor right now. We were going to close down in March for the roof to be redone, but the bids came in high and everything’s in flux,” she said.

As far as the acquisition of the artifacts goes, Farrarr said the museum hasn’t purchased them outright — instead, she said, items and artifacts have been donated by members of the community, they donate memorabilia or lend them to the museum to be put on display.

“This is the people of Montgomery County’s museum, not just Christiansburg. I want everyone to know that,” she said.