An excellent dive into local history

Farm Heritage Museum

By Emily Smeds

Pleasant Grove park is already a popular spot in the community with its winding trails, soccer fields, playground, and community garden. It’s also a quaint spot to time-travel back through local history. 

The Farm Heritage Museum, which opened in 2019, was the longtime dream of the late John Henry May, a Fluvanna native. An avid collector of antique farm equipment, May was one of the original founders of Old Farm Day in 1995. He donated several pieces from his own collection of antique farm equipment to the museum. The museum was a jointly funded effort by Fluvanna County and the Fluvanna County Historical Society. The project took $300,000 to complete. 

About 50 percent of the proceeds from Old Farm Day each year were set aside for the museum. Heavy fundraising was also done by dedicated people such as Carolyn Cason Talley and Mary Wills Tilman. The museum was established mostly through funding saved by the Fluvanna Historical Society from Old Farm Day combined with grants and donations, with $28,000 coming from the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors. 

The result was a spacious building chock-full of farm relics and equipment and included hand-forged blacksmithing tools, plows, cider-making equipment, hog-butchering supplies, a dog treadmill – for supplying energy, not puppy fitness – a Confederate ambulance from the Civil War, horse-drawn buggies, and much more. Each exhibit is accompanied by a sign giving context and information. 

Tours of the collections are designed to be self-guided, with plenty of interpretive signs to give visitors information and context. Each exhibit has pieces on the ground and some mounted on the walls in hand-crafted displays. Museum manager Don Payne, who has designed several of the exhibits himself, said that the museum’s target audience is “everybody, frankly!” He said that the most popular exhibits are the blacksmith display, which is set up like an actual blacksmith’s would have been, and the fully restored Civil War ambulance. Payne said that people from all over the country have visited the museum and left nothing but glowing comments in the visitor’s log. In fact, the museum had 1,500 visitors within the past year. 

Not only is the museum a great draw for local tourism, but it also provides a great opportunity for outreach to local children. The museum holds lots of elementary school events, like one held this year at Carysbrook Elementary, where they highlighted rural milk production complete with a milking simulation created by Payne using a bottle with a realistic teat. The museum even has a box of plastic animal giveaways for children to complete their museum experience. 

The museum is open Monday through Friday from 8 to 5 p.m. and weekends from 9 to 5 p.m. The museum is an excellent dive into local history.

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