Museum Grounds
Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park

The grounds of the museum offer a variety of sights as necessary and diverse as those found inside the museum. Both the natural and man-made worlds are represented. Artifacts as well as native and cultivated plants combine to beautify the grounds. As you stroll the grounds, you will find numbered posts (1-11) that designate each stop noted below.  Enjoy your walk!


Exterior Framework
.  The Southwest Virginia Museum was originally the private residence of Rufus Ayers, an attorney general of Virginia from 1886-1890. Construction of the mansion was completed in 1895. Craftsmen labored on the exterior of the building for a wage of seventeen and a half cents an hour. The exterior of the building is limestone and sandstone. The limestone is the lighter grayish stone, while the sandstone is much darker and brownish in color.

Several features stand out as you observe the exterior walls. The cornerstones are marked with a lattice pattern, unlike the rough stones used elsewhere. You may also see evidence of a two-story, red oak porch that once covered the exterior. Flat rows of stone and iron supports are all that remains of this porch. Due to structural instability the porch was removed many years ago.

The museum is honored to be listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

Stones from the Public School.

These stones were part of the three-building complex that served as the public school for Big Stone Gap for many years. The dated blocks were part of the main building and the words Public School were written over the main entrance.

The complex, which stood approximately one-half mile east of the museum on Wood Avenue, was torn down in the 1970's.

The Carriage House.

The Carriage House originally stored carriages and horses for the family and was built at or about the same time as the mansion. Later, the Carriage House served as a residence for the museum curator.

In 1981, the structure was declared unstable and was no longer used as a residence. The building was slated to be torn down until funds were made available to restore it. The house is now used to store museum artifacts not on display. These artifacts, however, are used for special exhibits.

Yellow Poplar  (Liriodendron tulipifera)

The yellow polar tree is commonly called the "tulip poplar" or "tulip tree." It gets these names from the shape of its leaves and flowers, which resemble tulips.

The yellow poplar is the largest broad leaf tree in North America and is prominent in the southeastern United States. Although called a poplar, it is not a member of the poplar family. It is actually in the magnolia family.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Several flowering dogwood trees can be found growing on the museum grounds. The white flowering dogwood is a cultivated species used for landscaping. Both species bloom in early spring.

The flowering dogwood is both the state flower and the state tree of Virginia. Early settlers used the twigs as toothbrushes. Dye was extracted from the bark. Native Americans believed bark from the dogwood, when crushed into powder, would cure malaria.

Norway Spruce  (Picea abies)

The Norway spruce is an evergreen introduced from Europe. It is a widely cultivated tree and is grown for ornamental landscaping, as it is here on the museum grounds.

The showy cones of the Norway spruce are the largest of all the spruces. A distinguishing feature of the Norway spruce is its drooping branches.

American Holly (Ilex opaca).  The American holly may be either male or female. The female produces berries in mid-to-late fall but there must be a male nearby to pollinate the flowers which produce these berries.

Most people associate holly with Christmas and decorations created using holly. While most decorations today are store-bought, turn of the century decorations were fashioned from naturally growing evergreens. Holly was one of the most popular of these natural decorations.



The Southwest Virginia Museum is a member of the American
Alliance of Museums, the American Association of State and Local History, and the Virginia Association of Museums.



Iron Kettle.  While walking you will notice a cast iron pot sitting under a tree. It was used for boiling seawater to obtain salt. The seawater was boiled off until only pure salt remained in the bottom of the pot.

Cast in Europe before 1776, the pot was brought from France to the United States by the Van de Vanter family. After several relocations, the pot became the property of a family in nearby Jonesville, Va., nearly a century ago.

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis).  The Eastern Hemlock is a member of the pine family. The hemlock's cone (less than an inch long) distinguishes it from other evergreens.

The bark of the hemlock was once a commercial source of tannin, used to produce leather. Tannin, a derivative of tannic acid, is used to darken materials.

Another use of the hemlock was the production of a tea from the leafy twigs. This was a readily available source of teas for pioneers of the area.

Today, hemlocks are used for landscaping. It is both a native and a cultivated tree.

The rhododendron is an evergreen that can be found growing in moist, acidic soil. Rhododendron is cultivated for landscaping purposes here on the museum grounds, as it is throughout the area.

Although commonly called Laurel, the rhododendron and the mountain laurel are actually different evergreens.

The Cardinal.  Several different species of birds can be seen visiting bird feeders on the museum grounds. Some of the more common birds seen include robins, blue jays, wrens and cardinals.

The cardinal is the state bird of Virginia. The male is brilliant red with a crest and a black face. The female is light brown and less showy in appearance. The song of the cardinal is a rich purty-purty-purty-purty. Cardinals got their name from the red robes worn by Roman Catholic Cardinals.

Watch for various birds throughout your walk. The museum grounds lie within a National Audubon Society Sanctuary, and the birds are protected.



This concludes your walk on the museum grounds. We hope you found the exterior of our museum to be fascinating.

Enjoy the remainder of your visit here. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at or call us at (276) 523-1322. We'll be glad to assist you!