Richmond is full of hidden gems for the traveler--Maymont, the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, and the Museum of the Confederacy, to name a few.
But one of the most often-overlooked is the Virginia Historical Society. That’s a shame, because this free museum is chock-full of historic artifacts, interactive exhibits, and arcane items to please all ages.
There are rooms where you can try on Colonial or Civil War bonnets, caps, and other garb, heft Civil War- era rifles to your shoulders and take “aim,” sit in an electric streetcar, peer into a doll house version of Richmond’s Georgian mansion, Wilton House, see a Wurlitzer jukebox, and more.
Near the Boulevard entrance of the Virginia Historical Society is an authentic log cabin where you can view short videos about Virginia history. Younger kids may not find them interesting, but never fear: Immediately outside the cabin’s windows are computers where kids can play the “Little Virginia” game.
Kids use the interactive computer to answer questions on Virginia history, then print out a colorful diploma to show their progress. You get to learn about Virginia history and so do your kids--just in different ways.
My favorite visiting exhibit was their “Bizarre Bits: Oddities from the Collection” exhibit, featuring strange and curious memorabilia. You could see a fungus carving, an account of a 1706 “witch” dunking in Virginia Beach, a lock of James Madison’s hair, and the first bullet to kill a Confederate officer during the Civil War. (It was fired by accident and the bullet ricocheted off the sidewalk and hit a man. Not exactly the most noble way to die.)
Not through December, the museum is offering three traveling exhibits:
- An Artist’s Story: Civil War Drawings by Edwin Forbes - Features over 120 original pen-and-ink drawings drawn on-site during the war.
- For the Love of Beauty: The Collections of Lora and Claiborne Robins - 19th century Hudson River School landscape paintings and colonial furniture collected by philanthropists Lora and E. Claiborne Robins, Sr.
- Heads and Tales/End of an Era: The Photography of Jack Jeffers - Black-and-white prints of landscapes and people from western Virginia's Appalachian region.
Want to get a sample of what you’ll see? You can take a 360 degree virtual tour of the Society by going to www.vahistorical.org.
The Society also has a top-notch research library where you can request to view a variety of items, including rare Confederate money and military manuals.
Their Education Department offers SOL-related field trips, teachers institutes and summer camps for kids. They also offer Girl Scout programs and teas at nearby Virginia House, a former British manor house which was demolished, shipped, and rebuilt in Richmond during the 1920’s.
The Society is open Mondays–Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm and Sundays from 1-5 pm. Admission is free, although you can tour the Richmond's Virginia House and gardens by appointment for a fee. They have ample free parking. (Hint: Use their lot when you visit the adjacent Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and you’ll save the art museum’s $3 parking fee.)
For a full day of history and culture, visit the Virginia Historical Society in the morning, then walk next door to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for lunch in their café, followed by a tour of their world-class collection.
Visit on a Thursday, and you can make an evening of it, with the art museum’s “Jazz Café,” a free event every Thursday from 6-9 pm featuring the Richmond Jazz Society.
Looking for more things to do in Virginia? Go to our Virginia Attractions Page.