Exhibits

Our exhibits were created to promote greater understanding of the county's history and of the connections between the county's history and that of the state of Virginia and the nation.

Temporary Exhibit: "Remembering Earl Hamner" (1923-2016)

Oakland Museum will re-open on Saturday, April 9, with a tribute to county native Earl Hamner Jr., creator of “The Waltons” and “Falcon Crest” television series and author of seven novels, including “Spencer's Mountain,” which became a feature film starring Henry Fonda. Hamner died recently in Los Angeles.

A selection of Hamner’s memorabilia made available by the Daura Gallery at Lynchburg College will be displayed, including an Emmy Award statuette and other artifacts celebrating his long career in television and film.

Also on display will be a preview of an upcoming exhibit of postcards of the county taken in the early 1900s by W.E. Burgess, a Scottsville photographer who roamed Central Virginia taking photos of everyday life and scenes of towns and other points of interest


The Camille Room—renovated, with upgraded displays

* New on this website! Examples of Camille-related photos at the museum! *

Hurricane Camille was the second most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the United States. Prior to reaching Mississippi on August 17, 1969, it passed over the Gulf of Mexico, suctioning up vast amounts of water. After causing historic damage in Mississippi, Camille lost hurricane status. Yet, the storm continued to move north and then eastward across the country, causing heavy rainfall. When it reached Nelson County on the night of August19-20, it released as much as 27 inches of rain within a six-hour period, causing massive mudslides and flooding. Residents had absolutely no warning of the approach of a storm of such magnitude and, that night, 125 people, about one percent of the population, lost their lives in the county. The storm also destroyed homes, farms and businesses, washed out bridges and roads, and cut off most communication with the outside world.

Members of the community came together and organized—with the help of Civil Defence resources and, eventually, volunteers from around the country—to rescue survivors, locate the dead, provide for the needs of the residents, and restore homes and churches, where possible. Indeed, in the Camille saga, the courage of many residents during the storm and their resourcefulness and energy afterward helped to redeem the destruction and relieve the grief.

The Oakland Museum has a room devoted to telling the story of Camille, and this room has recently been completely renovated, with new displays. The upgrades include a new large video screen on which we can show a documentary about Camille and, eventually, an animation of the weather phenomena that led to it. There are also listening stations to allow visitors to hear first-hand the stories of tragedy and heroism that marked that event. Available in the database of the Camille Resource Center are hundreds of photographs, videos, newspapers and publications relating the Camille storm that are accessible to the public.

The Camille exhibit was funded with grants from the Nelson County Community Fund, the Smyth Foundation, the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation and private donors.

Read about our resources for teachers and students on this subject.

The Best Hope: History of Nelson County Public Schools

“The Best Hope” is our new exhibit on the history of the Nelson County Public School system with special attention to materials used in schools in the 1920s and '30s.

Thanks to the donation of text books, notebooks, photographs, report cards and other school-related materials by the family of Elizabeth Wheeler, who attended school in Schuyler, visitors will be able to get a feel for what Nelson’s school children experienced 80 years ago.  The exhibit also features panels describing the highlights of the educational system from the colonial times to the late 20th century.

The exhibit is called “The Best Hope,” a phrase taken from the speeches and writings of Del. Robert Whitehead, who represented the county in the Virginia General Assembly from 1941 until his death in 1960. The exhibit also includes the importance of the Cabell family, particularly Joseph C. Cabell, in establishing schools in the post-colonial period and on to the creation of a public school system.

The panels also highlight the contributions of Dr. Catherine Seaman, the first woman to serve on the School Board, Harry Harris, the first African-American to serve on the School Board, and School Superintendents W.E. Kidd and Henry Conner. Kidd presided over the schools from 1920 to his death in 1954, a period of consolidation, and Conner presided during a period of rapid change, including the establishment of a vocational wing at the high school and kindergarten programs.

Cuttin' on the Lights: Rural Electrification

In 1937, only about 10% of Central Virginia's residents in rural areas had electric service. This exhibit tells the story of how Nelson County citizens met the challenge of bringing electrical power to a rural area by taking advantage of a Depression-era program run by the Rural Electrification Administration to organize the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. The exhibit includes an interactive map showing how electrical service was extended throughout the county, posters with a narrative and archival pictures, pre-electric appliances, early electrical appliances, including a refrigerator, sewing machine and antique radio, as well as oral history videos of the men and women who built the electrical system.

Created in cooperation with the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, this exhibit was made possible by a grant from the USDA Office of Rural Development and a matching grant from the Donovan Foundation as well as private donations.

Read about our resources for teachers and students on this subject.

A 19th-century tavern room

In its earliest years, from about 1838 to about 1849, the building in which the museum is housed was used as a tavern and was on the "Washington City to Lynchburg Stage" route. (Remnants of "Stage Road" still exist in Nelson County.) One of the rooms on the ground floor has been restored to resemble a tavern room of that period. It also contains a map of the local part of the stage coach route.

Copyright © 2005-2016 Nelson County Historical Society

Updated 10 August 2016.