The Frontier Culture Museum

Fun in the Shenandoah Valley

I’ve never been very good at staying in one place for too long. Cue the global pandemic. All of a sudden, I found myself reigning in my trip-planning mania and scaling down. Instead of a bigger road trip this summer, we took a couple of weekend trips to Airbnbs within a reasonable drive from home. I focused on finding places that were 1. affordable, 2. close by, 3. relatively crowd-free, and 4. accessible to open outdoor spaces.

This practice provided all three of us with a much-needed escape, so we decided to continue doing it during the school year. A couple of weeks ago, our local school district closed school on November 2nd and 3rd for Parent Teacher Conferences and Election Day. Since we voted early and could attend a virtual conference from anywhere with wifi, we decided to plan a little Sunday-Tuesday road trip. I checked my mental list of places in Virginia that we haven’t yet visited, and I realized that we could fit the family-friendly locations of the Frontier Culture Museum, Lexington, and Natural Bridge State Park into one brief getaway! So as not to be too overwhelming (and because I’m unnecessarily wordy), I will divide our trip into two separate blog posts. First up: the Frontier Culture Museum.

Frontier Culture Museum

Staunton, Virginia is about two and a half hours from our home in Fairfax County. It’s a treasure trove of cultural experiences, from the American Shakespeare Center to the very quirky Camera Heritage Museum, but we were in the market for a more socially distant activity. Enter the Frontier Culture Museum. This open-air museum is divided into two halves: the Old World and America.

The Old World features traditional 17th and 18th century settlements that would have been home to the ancestors of modern-day Virginians. These exhibits include actual period era German, English, and Irish homes that were dismantled and shipped here for reconstruction. Also included are replicas of a West African farm and Native American Ganatastwi, which highlight the peaceful way of life led by Black and Indigenous People of Color prior to the horrors of enslavement and colonization (Note: The photo of the West African farm below is courtesy of the museum’s website. I was so busy listening to the interpreter that I didn’t realize I forgot to take a picture until much later. All other photos in this blog post are mine). I personally appreciated that the museum made a point of including these exhibits rather than attempting to whitewash Virginia’s history, and it led to some open and thought-provoking conversations with my nine-year-old.

The second section of the museum, America, highlights the development of settlements in the Shenandoah Valley by European immigrants and their descendants. By viewing the progression from a one room cabin to more established family homes, farms, and schoolhouses over the course of more than a century, it was visually easy to see how communities in the Shenandoah Valley went from “survive” to “thrive”.

Know Before You Go

While the live interpreters and more minute details inside the dwellings might be more interesting to kids ages eight and up (and adults, too, of course!), there is so much space to roam that little ones will have fun simply running around and exploring. I felt that admission prices were reasonable for young families, considering the scope and breadth of the exhibits: $12 for adults, $11.50 for seniors, $11.00 for students ages 13-college, $7.00 for children ages 6-12, and free for children under six. You are allowed to bring your own food and drinks into the park, and there is a covered picnic pavilion for public use. The pathways between exhibits are paved and stroller friendly.

Since this place is so big (around 200 acres), you actually have the option of renting golf carts. My husband made the call to rent us one when he bought our tickets while we waited outside, but at around $25, I found it a little over-priced for three healthy, able-bodied people on a beautiful day. I would definitely recommend this option if you are traveling with someone who has a hard time getting around, if you visit on a very hot or rainy day, or if you simply want to seem like a rock star to your kids. I will also admit that the golf cart shaved down our visit time significantly – we spent about two hours at the museum, but on foot we probably would have spent twice that much time there…it is A LOT of walking.

Overall Opinion: The Frontier Culture Museum is a beautiful, fun, historically accurate, and educational place for families to spend the day. Its large and spread-out setting makes social distancing easy. Even if you can’t make it physically to the museum, the website is full of interesting information, photos, and videos. Either way, enjoy your trip through history!

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