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New Civil War Museum Sheds Light on Untold Stories

 

By Arianna Coghill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — If asked who was involved in the Civil War, most Americans would list the usual suspects: Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Stonewall Jackson.

But what about Elizabeth Van Lew, a Richmond abolitionist who worked as a spy for the Union army? Or Dr. Mary Walker, who received the Medal of Honor for treating prisoners of war on both sides? What roles did indigenous tribes and immigrants play during the war?

The American Civil War Museum, which holds its grand opening Saturday, aims to tell these stories and more through multimedia, artifacts and personal narratives.

As museum staffers have been setting up exhibits, they “are seeing artifacts being displayed in new ways and telling new stories,” said Stephanie Arduini, the museum’s director of education and programs.

Arduini said the 29,000-square-foot museum contains more than 500 artifacts. For example, visitors will be able to see the Confederate flag that Abraham Lincoln gave to his son, Tad, after the war ended — as well as a Native American moccasin that was sent to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Museum officials said every creative choice associated with the project was deliberate, from the location of the artifacts near each other to the location of the museum itself.

The museum, at 500 Tredegar St., was built at a cost of $25 million on the grounds of the Tredegar Iron Works, which was the largest of its kind in the South and provided artillery for the Confederate States Army. The back wall of the main lobby is an authentic ruin of the ironworks’ central foundry.

“It’s a blend of historic architecture and the new, modern building that’s placed like an exhibit case over the ruins,” Arduini explained. “It’s a nice symbolic contrast of how we approached the stories of the war in terms of looking at the past but placing them in the context of the present.”

The museum, which will be open daily, merges collections from the former Museum of the Confederacy and the former American Civil War Center at Tredegar.

Walking into the pre-gallery space, museum visitors are bombarded with history. The space features large, colorized photos of both famous individuals and relatively unknown players in the Civil War.

If You Go

Location:500 Tredegar St., along the James River near Belle Isle

Hours:Beginning Saturday, the museum will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Admission:$15 for adults; less for seniors, retired military, teachers, students and children

For more information: The museum’s website is https://acwm.org, and the phone number is 804-649-1861.

Photos of Harriet Tubman are featured alongside Phoebe Pember, a Jewish nurse of the Civil War.

“We really wanted people to focus on the faces of the war,” Arduini said.

Solid Light, a company based in Louisville, Kentucky, designed the museum’s exhibits. Its goal was to tell the stories in a high-impact, visual way that would resonate with the audience.

The exhibits include interactive maps to highlight specific battle locations and personal stories of people who experienced them.

Ultimately, the goal of the museum is to move away from the classic narrative of the Civil War and to paint a more complete picture of the events that took place, officials said.

“Traditionally, the story of the Civil War focuses on battles and military strategy. Working closely with CEO Christy Coleman, we designed exhibits to create a more inclusive and authentic experience true to history and the people of the time,” said Cynthia Torp, the owner of Solid Light.

Arduini said museum officials wanted the facility to have a contemporary feel and aesthetic.

“We wanted it to feel vibrant and relevant, like something you’d expect at a museum about something that’s still shaping our lives — because this is still shaping our lives, even though it happened over a 150 years ago,” Arduini said.

Your Personal Guide to Richmond’s Thrift Shop Scene

By Arianna Coghill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Many consumers are turning to thrifting as an eco-friendly alternative to shopping at the mall.

Numerous resale boutiques and thrift shops have popped up in the Richmond area over the past few years, giving people more options than ever. With warm weather creeping upon us, now is an opportune time to update your summer wardrobe.

From Short Pump to Midlothian to Carytown, here are a few of the area’s many thrift shops.

If you’re looking for a place that has all the latest fashions for half the price, look no further than Rumors Boutique and 723 W. Broad St. Rumors has a blend of modern and vintage-style clothing, carrying everything from the Instagram-famous brand Fashion Nova to authentic pieces straight from the 1980s.

When it comes to sustainability, the store no longer hands out plastic bags to customers. Rumors even sells metal drinking straws that have become increasingly popular in the past year.

Buffalo Exchange is perhaps the newest addition to Richmond’s thrift store lineup, having opened in August. The chain was started in Tucson, Arizona, in 1974 and now has over 50 locations across 21 states.

The Buffalo Exchange at 3140 W. Cary St. is its first in Virginia. When it comes to style, the store's options are a bit more vintage-inspired than Rumors’. If that’s your brand of strawberry jam, go for it.

If you’re looking for something more on the refined, less grunge side, Ashby is the place for you. If you enjoy brands like ASOS and Free People, then Ashby at 3010 W. Cary St. might be your perfect match. It was voted one of the best clothing consignment/resale stores and best women's boutiques by readers of Richmond Magazine in 2018.

If you’re looking for something on the more mature side, try Ashby’s sister store, Clementine at 3118 W. Cary St. While Ashby is more directed at younger, more casual demographic, Clementine feels chicer, selling designer brands such as Chanel and Lululemon. With springtime in full swing, bright pastel colors and bold prints are very much in style. If that’s what you’re searching for, Clementine will have you covered.

Uptown Cheapskate, like Buffalo Exchange, is a nationwide chain. It began in 2009 in Utah and eventually spread across the country. The company has two locations in RVA: at 1403 Huguenot Road in Midlothian and at 4338 Pouncey Tract Road in Short Pump. If you enjoy Urban Outfitters, Uptown Cheapskate is a good match. Plus, Uptown claims its clothes are as much as 70 percent cheaper than mall prices.

Citizens Expand Efforts to Preserve Historically Black College’s History

By Arianna Coghill, Capital News Service

LAWRENCEVILLE, Va. — “Challenge by choice” was the motto of Saint Paul’s College, which closed in 2013 because of financial problems and declining student enrollment.

Now the citizens of Lawrenceville are living up to that motto — by taking up the challenge of collecting and preserving artifacts documenting the 125-year history of the historically black college.

Lawrenceville residents and other supporters of Saint Paul’s College have opened a museum to showcase the memorabilia — including an original copy of “Adventure in Faith,” an autobiography written by the Rev. James Solomon Russell, who was born enslaved, became an Episcopal priest and founded the school in 1888.

The year-old museum has been such a success that it is ready to expand to a new location.

“We’re trying to create a place that could be a home to the alumni and that they can identify with,” said Bobby Conner, vice chairman of the project.

Conversations about how to keep the college’s memory alive began in 2012 — the year before the school shut its doors.

“We saw the writing was on the wall,” said Sylvia Allen, a member of the conservation effort. Thus the James Solomon Russell-Saint Paul’s College Museum and Archives was born.

James Grimstead is the museum’s chairman and director. He and Conner discussed the idea with Saint Paul’s for a year before officials decided to discontinue the school.

Because there was much uncertainty about whether the college would remain open, Conner was hesitant to raise the subject — but he knew that it was important.

“What could’ve happened is that the university could’ve closed on June 30 (2013) and the creditors could’ve come on July 1,” Conner said. “If the creditors would’ve got involved, this museum would’ve never have happened.”

The school, which was on the National Register of Historic Places, was founded as Saint Paul Normal and Industrial School and then became Saint Paul’s Polytechnic Institute in 1941. The name was changed in 1957 to Saint Paul’s College to reflect its liberal arts curriculum.

    

The college’s demise followed pressure from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which revoked Saint Paul’s accreditation because of “lack of financial stability” and other reasons.

The nonprofit museum opened last April in downtown Lawrenceville, a town of about 1,400 people in Brunswick County, which borders North Carolina. It quickly filled with artifacts dating to the late 1800s. They range from a 1922 college guestbook to a 1973 student newspaper and include decades-old class photos, sports trophies and banners.

According to Grimstead and Conner, if they had not rescued these artifacts, the mementos likely would have remained in the campus’ abandoned buildings, which have weathered over time. Problems like mold would have seriously damaged many of the items.

    

    

Several alumni such as former professional basketball player Antwain Smith have visited the museum — not only to travel down memory lane but also to reflect on the classes before them.

Teya Whitehead, who graduated from Saint Paul’s College in 1998, was devastated when she first heard that the school was closing. She still finds it to be a difficult pill to swallow.

But with the establishment of the museum, the happy memories of her college days will stay preserved.

“My favorite memory was the overall camaraderie that we had together. Many of my lifelong friends are still in contact with me today,” Whitehead said. “The school was a very family-oriented environment.”

With the sheer amount of memorabilia, the museum’s current location has become cramped. There are plans to move the museum to the former Saint Paul’s College Student Center, which now serves as the Brunswick County Conference Center. The grand reopening is scheduled for Aug. 10.

“I never imagined while moving that stuff that we’d be where we are today,” Conner said. “I was just getting it off campus to protect it.”

Instead of Cooking Up Laws, Politicians Enjoy Stew

Capital News Service Reporter Arianna Coghill struggles to stir 85 gallon pot of stew.

By Arianna Coghill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. --  The rich aromas of Brunswick’s famous stew pour from the tent, tempting passing legislators to poke their heads inside Wednesday, eager for Stew Day to begin. But they’re shooed away like children peeking under the tree on Christmas Eve.

When Stew Day begins, it’s a hustle of activity. Long lines of clerks and lawmakers stretch and wrap around corners. Legislative pages -- the smartly dressed boys and girls who run errands for members of the General Assembly -- scurry out of the tent to deliver containers of stew to legislators who couldn’t make it but desire a little taste of Brunswick.

Usually, politicians are hungry for change, but today, they’re hungry for stew.

Besides legislators, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring dropped by, happily cradling their own steaming cups of stew. Even Gov. Ralph Northam took a turn stirring the pot.

“It’s a great tradition. Wonderful people,” Fairfax said. “We’re huge fans of not only the stew but the people of Brunswick.”

Brunswick Stew -- named for Brunswick County, along Virginia’s border with North Carolina -- traces its origin to a hunting party in 1828. In 2002, the General Assembly passed a resolution officially designating the fourth Wednesday of each January as Brunswick Stew Day. The resolution called the stew a "gastronomic miracle" and "celestial sustenance.”

“Brunswick stew is a big thing in the rural areas,” Del. Thomas Wright, who introduced the legislation back in 2002, said, “It was something that I thought deserved recognition.”

Most of the people in the tent where the stew was being served Wednesday could recite the dish’s history.

 

Inside the tent, four burly men stood around an elevated, 85-gallon cauldron overflowing with a hearty stew so thick that the paddle used to stir it sticks straight up at attention. The men pushed that paddle around as if it were second nature. And to most of them, it was.

It took five cooks to make the stew, starting at midnight. They cooked all the way through the morning until 8:30 a.m. At the helm of it all was Tracy Clary, the stewmaster.

Clary was the 2017 winner of the Brunswick Stew Cook-Off, a competition ordinarily held each October to determine which recipe of Brunswick stew would reign supreme. The winner is crowned “Stewmaster” and provides the stew for Brunswick Stew Day at the Virginia Capitol in January.

Unfortunately, last October’s cook-off was canceled due to inclement weather. But luckily, Clary was there to step in.  

Making stew has been in Clary’s family for generations. He had started making soup as a teenager with his grandmother, who was steadfast in her recipe that she kept on a 3-by-5 index card. As he has grown older, Clary has confessed to tweaking her recipe just a bit to suit his own tastes.

Now he cooks for his community, making about 600-800 quarts at a time.  “We make money for a lot of civic organizations. I cook for churches, individuals. We raise a lot of money,” Clary said.

He hopes his 12-year-old grandson will carry on the tradition.

“We have to keep the tradition alive. Twenty-five years from now, no one’s going to know how to cook Brunswick stew,” Clary said, his eyes beginning to tear up. “And that’s bad.”

Governor and Others Vow to Protect Women’s Reproductive Rights

By Arianna Coghill and Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Dozens of women packed into the state Capitol Thursday to stand beside Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and General Assembly members who issued a statement in solidarity with women’s reproductive rights.

Representatives of several advocacy groups, including the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, joined public officials, all Democrats, to discuss abortion rights and promote better access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

“I’m going all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to in order to protect Virginians’ health care,” Herring said.

Meanwhile, two bills calling for greater reproductive health rights failed to leave the Senate Committee on Education and Health. Committee members voted 8-7 twice, along party lines, not to advance the bills.

Public officials and advocates who support abortion rights promised to remember Thursday’s votes at the next election.

“When we can’t change people’s minds, we change seats,” Northam said.

Herring added, “As saw in committee this morning, in order to really truly protect women's rights and their reproductive rights, we need a pro-choice majority in the General Assembly.”

SB 1637, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, sought to establish a woman’s reproductive choice as a right. Also called the Virginia Human Right Act, the bill stated, “Every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or terminate the pregnancy.”

Boysko expressed concerns that the current political climate could jeopardize women’s reproductive rights.

“We must codify our national rights into Virginia state law,” she said, “to ensure that the reproductive rights of Virginians are dependable, secure, and no longer in danger from changing political tides.”

SB 1451, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, also failed in committee. The bill would have eliminated the state’s requirements women get an ultrasound before an abortion, that a second trimester abortion must be performed in a hospital and that two doctors are needed to certify a third-trimester abortion.

“It’s time we stop criminalizing a woman’s choice and expand access to care for all Virginians,” McClellan said.

When McClellan served in the House of Delegates, she was the first member to give birth while in office. She said pregnancy opened her eyes to the scope of women affected by current regulations and prompted her to submit her bill.  

“One [woman] who had a hole in her heart, who was on birth control but got pregnant anyway, had to make the terrible decision to terminate that pregnancy or risk her life,” McClellan said. “I have always been pro-choice. This took on extra passion for me because so many people have told me in the grocery store, ‘That’s my story.’”

HB 2491, sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Springfield, is identical to McClellan’s bill and currently sits in the House Courts of Justice committee. Tran said the current medical requirements are unnecessary and impact low-income Virginians and women of color.

“For women seeking reproductive care, the additional costs and obstacles imposed by existing regulation could potentially include unpaid time off from work, hospital fees and other emotional distress,” Tran said. “These restrictions harm women and have disproportionate effects on low-income women and women of color in Virginia.”

Lawmakers Tout Plan for Casinos in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth

State Legislators from Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville, during a Monday morning press conference, introduced a plan to build casinos in the hopes of creating new jobs and improving past economic problems.

By Kathleen Shaw, Arianna Coghill and Katja Timm, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Members of the General Assembly from Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville urged their colleagues Monday to approve legislation to allow casino gambling in those cities. They said the plan would create jobs and boost the economy.

Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Bristol, and Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, joined delegates from each locality at a news conference to push for a state law authorizing casinos. They said that in seven years, such gambling operations could generate a total of nearly $100 million in local revenue and create about 16,000 jobs.

Under the legislation, a referendum would be held in each of the cities, and voters would have to agree whether to allow casinos to be built.

“This is an opportunity for not only us but for southwest and Danville to join forces and give the citizens a choice,” said Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth. “A choice to bring a revenue streak, to help pay for schools, give teachers raises and do the things we need to do.”

Republicans and Democrats from Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville have partnered on the legislative initiative, saying their cities face similar financial problems.

“We’re struggling, and our economies are struggling,” Carrico said. “And for me, I want to see Bristol do well. But I also see that Sen. Lucas and Del. Marshall are struggling as well.”

The median annual household income is about $49,000 in Portsmouth, $38,000 in Bristol and $35,000 in Danville — far below the statewide median of $69,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In contrast, the average household income in Fairfax County is more than $117,000.

“The city of Danville had two Fortune 500 companies that at one point had 60,000 jobs. We’ve had to close four schools in the area due to the lack of population,” Marshall said. “But Danville is working hard to rebuild, and we are having some successes.”

Four bills to authorize casino gambling have been introduced for this legislative session. They are SB 1126, sponsored by Lucas; SB 1503, proposed by Carrico; HB 1890, filed by James; and HB 2536, carried by Del. Israel D. O’Quinn, who represents Bristol and surrounding counties.

While casino gambling bills have failed in the past, Lucas and Carrico said requiring community input through a referendum gives this year’s legislation the advantage needed to pass the General Assembly.

In a Q&A session, officials were asked about potential issues that could come from introducing casino gambling, such as crime and addiction. They said authorities would use tax revenues from casinos to address public needs like school facilities, law enforcement and social services.

“We’re going to appoint so much money to addiction abuse and public safety and keep it a safe, industrial way to produce revenue,” Carrico said. “This is a tightly regulated industry.”

At the news conference, legislators also were asked about religious objections some citizens have to casinos. The lawmakers said their proposals would impose regulations on the industry to safeguard the community.

Carrico, a religious man himself, met with pastors and said they were open to the suggestion of casinos. The religious leaders appreciated the ability to vocalize their concerns in the public referendum, the senator said.

Two Bristol businessmen plan to fund construction of the casino in the city.

Jim McGlothlin, CEO of the United Company, and Clyde Stacy, owner of Par Ventures, are long-time partners and coal barons. At the news conference, McGlothlin said the project will not need government funding. McGlothlin said the region’s economic problems are significant and need a ‘big, bold’ project to compete with neighboring states.

As a result, the legislation needs only to pass the General Assembly and garner majority support in a local referendum for the dice to start rolling.

Lucas said casinos are the most efficient way to pull Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol out of an economic rut.

“We just want to create economic development in these three parts of the state,” Lucas said. “It’s plain and simple.”

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