Living History Museum Honors the Past, for the Future

By Keith Deel
By the sweat of their brows and the strength of their backs, settlers built a life in Appalachia.
Few reminders of their struggles remain, but one is the Matthews Living History Museum, located outside of Galax, VA. It gives a glimpse into the lives of the citizens of Grayson County from 1880 to 1920.
“The people of Grayson County were innovative and knew a great deal about how to sustainably farm,” said Sandy Troth, the founding President of Masters Gardeners of the Blue Ridge and a member of the board of the museum. In the late 1800’s they exported “fat cattle”or grass fed beef throughout much of Europe. However, providing superb beef (with reported two feet long steaks) was only one source of income for the founders. “Dairies abounded. Carnation Milk Company picked up milk all through the County & delivered it to their building located right on the railroad tracks in Galax. Beans were a huge cash crop for farmers who provided them to factories in the Northeast to make Boston baked beans,” said Troth.
In 1992, an organization was founded to preserve this history. After the donation of a 21 acre working farm by Judge Matthews and his wife Claire in 2002, the museum began staging events in 2004.
A volunteer in the community and an organic gardener with her husband, Troth recounts her first involvements with the museum’s opening. “I was approached as a member of a fiber arts group to help demonstrate spinning and crochet and knitting at the new Farm Museum. “My interests in the Museum soon expanded to include the horticulture of the era. That opened up a whole new world of delights for me. I was hooked.”
The museum houses a 1900 farmhouse, a workshop, authentically constructed barn with hay mow and dance loft, an 1851 log cabin, a functioning spring house, small sheds and a pig barn as well as livestock of the era and vegetable and herb gardens.
In addition to observing the farming cycles such as the spring planting and fall repairs and preparation, one becomes immersed in the traditional farm life such as hay making and fence mending. Artisans and local music complete the picture. Admission is free. Contact: OR (276) 238-1217.


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