Sunday, February 24, 2008

Spotsylvania Court House Historic District

A dreary February weekend with nothing in particular to do led us to explore another historic attraction in our own backyard: the Spotsylvania Court House Historic District. We started with our first visit to the Spotsylvania County Museum, housed in the converted Old Berea Christian Church, built in 1856. The museum is home to a large collection of artifacts, mostly from the 1800’s, with the usual Civil War relics mixed in with lots of household items, donated by local residents. The one-room museum has an antique shop quality to it, with each item identified and dated, but without much description. The collection would benefit from the services of a curator, who could edit the collection and create more logical groupings, with easy-to-read panels describing the items and their significance in relation to local history. I wish there had been more context provided to all of the items, more explanation of their place in history...their story. But curators cost money, and that's not in the cards yet for this little, home-grown museum (and as a county taxpayer, I guess I can't really complain). On the plus side, the museum is free, had a friendly guide on hand to answer questions, and can be part of a pleasant walk around the courthouse area. And it’s right next door to the Spotsy Spot, where you can get an ice cream cone after your museum tour.

A display case with assorted 19th century artifacts:

Here is my favorite piece from the museum: this "Edison recorder and reproducer" which is his version of the early phonograph (no date or details are given):

At the museum, the guide suggested we check out the historic jail across the street. In order to get into the jail, you need to stop in at the Visitor Center first. Here you can see a short video, which starts out describing the county’s significance in the Civil War (as the site of three major battles: Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville and The Wilderness), and then abruptly shifts into promotional travelogue mode, extolling Spotsy as a tourism destination, with its antebellum homes and natural wonders. Kind of filled me with a bit of pro-Spotsy fervor, I must admit. After the video, the Visitor Center staffer took us across the street to the jail, built in 1855, for a short tour. It looks exactly how you’d expect a mid-19th century jail to look:

This looks downright medieval:

Here are the toilet facilities. Fill the bucket, then dump it out the hole in the brick:

And here's another historic building, next to the jail--Christ Episcopal Church, which dates back to 1841:

We hadn’t been to the Court House area in a few months, not since the new, multi-laned bypass opened up. It’s kind of funny that a tiny crossroads in the country needs such a huge bypass, but its construction was motivated not just by the irritating traffic backup you can experience on Courthouse Road, but by plans to expand the Courthouse area with the construction of the new Spotsylvania Courthouse Village, a planned “neotraditional town style community” with residential and commercial areas. Another attempt to recreate a quaint town center that never existed in real life, to be built on the location of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House's initial staging in 1864. Nothing like replacing real history with faux history.

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