Please welcome guest authors Hilary Harrison and Lori Jones from the Blacksburg Museum & Cultural Foundation. Harrison oversees exhibits, collections, history and education at the Foundation and Jones oversees the gift shop, volunteer program & marketing. In the following article they focus on the recent opening, history and future of the Alexander Black House and Cultural Center in Blacksburg, VA.
Blacksburg, Virginia: A small southwest Virginia town, with a rich culture and history. Within the last decade or so, Blacksburg has been able to gather this important culture and history into one central location to share with the community.
When a historic structure was sold for the construction of a new parking garage & retail center (Kent Square), the Town stepped in to save it. In 2002, the Alexander Black House was purchased and moved by the Town of Blacksburg to its current location on Draper Road.
The history of this home actually begins in 1772, when Samuel Black purchased six-hundred acres in the Draper’s Meadow area. Samuel chose not to live in this area, but when he passed away in 1792, he divided his land evenly between his two sons, William and John. John’s land would later become Virginia Tech’s campus while William laid out sixteen blocks on thirty-seven of his acres and founded Blacksburg in 1798. William, like his father, was an expansionist and looked for opportunities to make his mark in new territory. Blacksburg did not grow at the rate William had hoped for, so he left for Ohio in search of more opportunities in expansion. In the thirty year period from 1840 to 1870, however, Blacksburg grew significantly. It became home to many different communities and cultures unique to Southwestern Virginia. A prime spot for resupplying on the road west, Blacksburg captured travelers with varied backgrounds who brought with them a flair for music, agricultural practices, foodways, deep religious beliefs and education.
As the great, great nephew of William Black (founder of Blacksburg in 1798) and son of Dr. Harvey Black (Civil War surgeon), Alexander (1857 – 1935) became a well-known figure in Blacksburg. Losing their first home to fire in 1896, Alexander and his wife Liz Kent Otey rebuilt their house in the Queen Anne Victorian style, quite uncommon in small town Appalachia. Because of its unique architecture, the house became a prominent structure on Main Street, where it stood until 2002.
The Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation has its roots in the Town of Blacksburg’s History and Preservation committee, which was created to guide the establishment of a museum for the community. In August 2010, the committee created the Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation, an independent, non-profit organization, as the fundraising arm of the museum, which adopted the mission to preserve, interpret and promote Blacksburg’s historic, artistic and cultural heritage. Since then, the BMCF has carried out their mission through the management and programming of Blacksburg’s museums and cultural centers as well as the historic 16 Squares of Blacksburg.
August 6th of this year marked the grand opening of the newly restored Alexander Black House and Cultural Center. With Phase 1 complete, visitors can experience the entire first floor of the original house including a new addition. The Cultural Center contains rotating exhibits in art, history and culture and a gift shop. The Foundation also conducts tours of the historic 16 Squares, an historic lecture series, festivals and other events at both the St. Luke & Odd Fellows’ Hall and the Alexander Black House. Fundraising continues as we look forward to the completion of Phase 2, opening the entire upstairs and areas of the basement for community use. Visit www.blacksburghistory.org for more information and to donate to the restoration fund or to participate in our engraved brick program.
Since the grand opening, thousands of visitors have walked through the halls of the Alexander Black House and are able to learn the importance of our local history, arts and culture. Our rotating exhibits highlight the rich history of our community as well as the work of local artists and the distinctive culture that continues to make Blacksburg special.
In addition, the BMCF is making a conscious effort to reach audiences of all ages within the community. Throughout the exhibits, technology and modern ways of teaching and participating along with traditional concepts are incorporated to reach a wider audience.
Most recently, on September 13th, the Alexander Black House celebrated the debut of the cultural exhibit “Live Music in Blacksburg in the ‘70s & ‘80s”. Visitors gathered on the lawn for a concert featuring two Blacksburg bands from the ‘80s, The Electric Woodshed and The Kind, and were able to preview the exhibit, which will be on display until November 16th.
A more permanent exhibit, the Alexander Black Bedroom, will continue to highlight the history of the Black family and their contributions to Blacksburg and its development, including furniture that was original to the house.
Upcoming exhibits include focuses on a Victorian Christmas, with quilting, and bicycle culture, coming in the new year.
The Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation invites everyone to come and make yourself at home in “Blacksburg’s Living Room.” Engulf yourself in the community, culture, and history that Blacksburg has to offer.
Museum Hours at the Alexander Black House & Cultural Center (204 Draper Rd., SW) are Tues – Sat, 10 am – 4 pm; Museum Hours at St. Luke & Odd Fellows Hall (203 Gilbert St) are Thurs – Fri, 2 pm – 5 pm. Visit us on-line at www.BlacksburgHistory.org or on Facebook!