Collections from Virginia National Parks

National Park Service, Centennial One Object Exhibit

In celebration of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016, this exhibit showcases one object from every national park museum collection in Virginia. We invite you to explore museum collections from Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, Claude Moore Colonial Farm, Fort Hunt, Great Falls Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Prince William Forest Park, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, Booker T. Washington National Monument, Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park, Colonial National Historical Park (Yorktown), Fort Monroe National Monument, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, Petersburg National Battlefield, Richmond National Battlefield Park, Shenandoah National Park, and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

This rare stereoview is thought to feature Selina Gray and two of her daughters. Selina Gray was the personal maid of Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, the wife of Robert E. Lee. Featured behind the family is most likely the South Slave Quarters building, which contained the family’s personal quarters. Here Selina Gray lived with her eight children and husband, Thornton Gray. Selina was a close confidant of Mrs. Lee. It is said that she and her husband Thornton were married in the family parlor at the estate, underneath the same archway Mr. and Mrs. Robert E. Lee were married under in 1831.

It was to Selina that Mrs. Lee left the keys to Arlington House as the family fled the estate in 1861. They fled ahead of Union seizure of the estate due to its strategic location outside of Washington, DC at the start of the American Civil War. Early in the Union occupancy of the estate, Selina was instrumental in saving relics that belonged to President George Washington, passed down in the family by Mrs. Lee’s father, George Washington Parke Custis, step-grandson of President Washington.

Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial National Memorial, ARHO 15585

This personal note was sent from General Dwight D. Eisenhower to Staff Sergeant Amos Leslie Wilson and references how Wilson and a comrade came to the aid of his wife, Mamie Eisenhower. Wilson was a part of a group of German-speaking military personnel sent to Fort Hunt Park for the top secret PO Box 1142 project. This project was run by the War Department and included prisoner-of-war interrogation programs run by the military known as MIS-Y (Military Intelligence Service-Y) and Op-16-Z (Operation-16-Z).

Fort Hunt Park, FOHU 217

In 1964 Manassas National Battlefield Park commissioned Caroline County, Virginia artist Sidney E. King (1906-2002) to paint a mural intended for an outdoor interpretive display on Henry Hill depicting the destruction of Battery I, 1st US Artillery under the command of Captain James B. Ricketts. This event, which occurred around 3 p.m. on July 21, 1861, was a decisive turning point in the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run). King, a prolific painter of outdoor works at many National Park sites, based his painting on a wartime sketch by noted Civil War artist Alfred R. Waud and it has since become an iconic image of the battle. By 1981 the painting was considered too valuable to remain outdoors and it was accessioned into the park's museum collection. It now greets visitors in the lobby of the park visitor center.

Manassas National Battlefield Park, MANA 2474

This scenic postcard showcases the Great Falls of the Potomac where the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge. At the Patawomack Canal, a key historic district of Great Falls, President George Washington worked to establish the Patawomack Company in 1785 whose purpose was to make the Potomac River navigable to the Ohio River Valley. The small settlement of Matildaville, founded by Lighthorse Harry Lee, was established in Great Falls to aid this effort.

Postcards such as these would have attracted visitors to Great Falls. Beginning in 1906, Great Falls operated as an amusement park in addition to being an incredibly scenic vista.

Great Falls Park, GRFA 11469

The SST-1 Transmitter is a unit of the SSTR-1 “Suitcase Radio”, a clandestine radio for use by Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agents in WWII. Because of the radio’s small size, OSS agents had a good chance concealing it on the streets and fields of battle. In enemy territory, undercover agents could transport this component inside a loaf of bread, quickly set up, transmit a message, then break down the radio and move away before enemy direction-finding equipment closed in on them. This cutting edge technology, rehearsed in the forest of what would be called Prince William Forest Park, helped win the war.

Prince William Forest Park, PRWI 7717

Over 40 years as America's only national park for the performing arts, Wolf Trap has presented performances by hundreds of important and well-known artists at the Filene Center. The famed ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov first performed at Wolf Trap in 1976; this autographed publicity photograph dates from a 1995 appearance with the White Oak Dance Project. Obtaining original signatures of all performers on their photos and programs is a tradition that Wolf Trap has maintained since the Filene Center opened in 1971.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, WOTR 69

This painting, by traveling artist George Frankenstein, depicts the town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia where on April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to United States forces under General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. The McLean House (center right) was the site of the 90-minute meeting that led to peace and the reunification of the nation following four years of war and over 700,000 American casualties.

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, APCO 7

This artifact is a perfect example of a .58 caliber Union minie ball, the most widely used bullet in the Civil War. Often used with Springfield rifle muskets, minie bullets (also called minie balls) could travel as far as 1500 yards, although they were most accurate within 350 yards. This artifact is a fitting representative of the history of Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park because of the monumental significance of the Battle of Cedar Creek in the Civil War. After suffering a surprise attack, the Union Army defeated the Confederate forces in a bloody but decisive battle. This humble artifact is a direct link to this battle and the soldiers who perished and survived at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, CEBE 453

During the American Revolution, George Washington used two marquees, or large field tents, which served as his headquarters. The larger marquee served as campaign headquarters for functions such as officers’ meetings and formal dinners. The smaller marquee had designated spaces that provided an office, sleeping quarters, and storage space for baggage. This chamber stood inside the smaller of the two marquees and served as a private office for Washington. Here he wrote orders and correspondence, and conducted other business. Colonial National Historical Park also owns the ceiling liner for the large marquee. Both of these interior tent components are on exhibit at Yorktown Visitor Center.

Colonial National Historical Park, COLOY 3132

In war, most men and women do their duty. A few ascend beyond duty to perform nobly. A handful become heroes. Sergeant John Chase of the 5th Maine Battery earned this Medal of Honor at the Battle of Chancellorsville, when he and another soldier continued to work their cannon after other members of the battery fell. Two months later, a shell burst next to Sgt. Chase at Gettysburg. He suffered 48 distinct wounds, but survived. His Medal of Honor is now in display at the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park--a symbol of the immense effort and sacrifice embodied by soldiers then and now.

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, FRSP 14120

Discovered during archeological investigations at George Washington Birthplace National Monument, this wine bottle seal bears the initials “AW” for Augustine Washington,George Washington's father. Wine bottle seals were made when an extra dollop of molten glass was laid on the body of a still-warm bottle and then stamped with the initials or logo of the bottle's owner.

Augustine Washington would have ordered bottles with his seal affixed from England. The seals demonstrate that the Washington family was established in the area by the time Augustine moved his growing family back to the Popes Creek plantation about 1718, and they could afford the extra costs of the personalized seals bearing Augustine's initials. Five partial and three complete “AW” wine bottle seals have been found at the birthplace to date.

George Washington Birthplace National Monument, GEWA 264

This framed photograph of the nation's first African American female banker and her staff is a quintessential depiction of Maggie L. Walker. It captures the regal appearance of the fraternal leader against the backdrop of her office, the St. Luke Hall. This photo once hung inside the St. Luke Hall which, like Walker herself, was revered as a beacon of black entrepreneurship and community pride during the Jim Crow Era.

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, MAWA 7230

Shovels were used by Union and Confederate soldiers, as well as slaves and free blacks (by the Confederacy) to construct and maintain an elaborate earthwork system. Construction of defensive fortifications around Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia began in the summer of 1862. By June 15, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all the Union armies had shifted his focus in Virginia to capturing the important manufacturing and transportation hub of Petersburg. Confederate General Robert E. Lee rushed troops in his army to defend Petersburg. By April 1865, some 255 linear miles of earthworks snaked around the Richmond-Petersburg front.

The earthworks defined and often confined the soldiers’ experiences as Private Calvin Fish of the 9th Maine Infantry recorded in the summer of 1864, "It has been fight and dig, dig and fight ever since this campaign commenced.” Similarly, William Leak of the 22nd South Carolina wrote to his wife and children, “We are here still in these awful trenches firing away at the Yankees. The bullets are whizzing, the cannon roaring, and bombs bursting. I have got used to it; I have been in it so long.” The earthworks were critical to the soldiers who hoped and prayed to survive this campaign and the war.

Confederate Ordnance Sergeant James W. Albright wrote in his diary (now in the collection of the University of North Carolina) the single best sentence about the Petersburg Campaign: “Dig, dig, dig! is the word; while boom, boom, boom! from the mortars, & the shrill whistle of the minnies, alone, break the monotony of the tiresome, demoralizing, debilitating siege.” Petersburg National Battlefield protects many miles of earthworks, created with shovels and picks and we interpret the men who created and lived in the trenches which stand as a physical reminder of the nature of this campaign.

Petersburg National Battlefield, PETE 906

This officer's frock coat belonged to US Brigadier General Edward Hastings Ripley. Ripley first commanded a company in the 9th Vermont Infantry, but by late summer of 1864, he commanded an entire brigade in the XXIV Corps of the Army of the James, which saw action in the fortifications south of Richmond. On April 3rd, 1865 General Ripley was one of the first officers to lead his men into the surrendered capital of the Confederacy.

Richmond National Battlefield Park, RICH 691

This image of the Skyline Drive looking north toward Mary’s Rock Tunnel includes the Tunnel Overlook parking area and Pass Mountain in the distance. The idea for a skyline drive goes back to the Southern Appalachian National Park Committee assigned to look for land in the southern Appalachian Mountains to create an eastern national park. Their 1925 report to Congress recommending what would become Shenandoah National Park contained the statement, “The greatest single feature, however, is a possible skyline drive along the mountain top following a continuous ridge and looking down westerly on the Shenandoah Valley from 2,500 to 3,500 feet below, and also commanding a view of the Piedmont Plain stretching easterly to the Washington Monument, which landmark or our National Capitol may be seen on a clear day. Few scenic drives in the world could surpass it.” Mary’s Rock Tunnel appearing here was an impressive engineering feat of great interest when it was built between 1931 and 1932. The guardwall and island of plantings visible in the image were done with the help of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) labor which also built retaining walls on the north side of the tunnel. The CCC was responsible for these tasks here and along the drive from 1933 through 1942 when the last of the CCC camps in the park closed. Their labor was critical to the creation the Shenandoah National Park seen today.

Shenandoah National Park, SHEN 22060

According to family tradition, this humble cast iron cooking pot made the crossing through the Cumberland Gap with the Morton family as they made their way from Louisa, Virginia, to Logan County, Kentucky, in 1815, along with all their slaves, livestock, and household goods. Simple yet durable, this pipkin illustrates the difficult choices made by the settlers as they decided what to bring to their new home on the western frontier. More importantly, it gives a voice to the silent partners - the women, both black and white - whose courage and faith sustained the travelers on their often harsh journey to the fabled blue grass of Kentucky.

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, CUGA 469

Credits: Story

Park museum staff from: Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, Claude Moore Colonial Farm, Fort Hunt, Great Falls Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Prince William Forest Park, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, Booker T. Washington National Monument, Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park, Colonial National Historical Park (Yorktown), Fort Monroe National Monument, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, Petersburg National Battlefield, Richmond National Battlefield Park, Shenandoah National Park, and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

National Park Service, Museum Management Program Staff: Amber Dumler, Stephen Damm, Ron Wilson, and Joan Bacharach

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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