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History Museum Reopens in Cozier Digs

Jeanne Bolendorf at the new home for the History Museum.

by Gene Marrano

Albeit in a much cozier space, the History Museum of Western Virginia reopened its doors on a temporary basis in the old Shenandoah Hotel at the corner of Williamson Road and Campbell Avenue over the weekend. The building, which is for sale by owner Center in the Square, once housed Twists & Turns.

 The gift shop / gallery was also located at Center in the Square, which is now closed for renovations. The gift shop has taken up temporary residence in the same building, across the hall from the history museum, while the Science Museum reopened several months ago at a temporary home inside Tanglewood Mall.

Jeanne Bolendorf, executive director for the museum and the Historical Society of Western Virginia, called the move from Center in the Square “a traumatic experience and I don’t recommend it to anyone if you can avoid it.” At least she said that with a smile. About “10,000 square feet of stuff” was moved, according to Bolendorf, with most of that being the Historical Society’s collection. With many items being quite large she called it a “monumental task. It takes multiple people to carry them at one time.”

Going from 10,000 sq. feet of space to less than 3000 presented challenges, noted Bolendorf. The museum will gain some space on the second floor after renovations are completed at Center in the Square, taking over square footage once occupied by the art museum. “I couldn’t be more excited about it,” said Bolendorf of the upcoming changes. “I just think Center is due for a facelift. Anything that can get people excited about being downtown is a great project.”

The new Center in the Square will feature fish tanks in the redone atrium, a rooftop café and a butterfly garden. “There will be so many new things at Center in the Square, I can’t imagine people won’t want to come out [and see it].” Bolendorf hopes a larger number of people will then wander into the history museum, which also includes a research library.

An outside show from the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College that focuses on southwest Virginia’s music recording heritage is helping to kick off the museum at its new location, where it will reside until sometime in 2013.  The museum is also presenting a smaller exhibit on the military history of the region, with “significant artifacts” on display according to Bolendorf. They haven’t decided how many exhibits will be rotated in the museum; whoever is hired as the new manager will help make the call there.

One good thing about relocating to such a busy corner, in a space with large windows: increased foot traffic and passersby. “We’re getting a lot more folks just stopping in to see what’s here,” noted Bolendorf, “and we’ve got lots of sunlight, which is nice for us.” The museum will reinstitute free Fridays but will charge an admission fee otherwise; they’ll also be open late on Fridays to catch some of the crowd leaving work or coming downtown for the evening.

Bolendorf is working on a membership drive and plans to have new materials for that soon. A new development coordinator will be hired to coordinate that effort.

As for the first exhibit at the new location, “Hometown Stars – southwest Virginia’s recording legacy,” Bolendorf thinks attendees will find it interesting. In the 1930s and ‘40s said Bolendorf, “we were like Nashville in terms of recording music. We had lots of recording stories. It’s just a real look at a whole different slice of life. These were regular working people who just happened to be musicians.”

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