A Touch of History

A Brief History of the Botetourt County Historical Museum
By: Weldon Martin, Executive Director

Since opening its doors officially for the first time at 1 p.m. on Sunday, November 27, 1966, the Botetourt County Historical Museum has served as a repository for hundreds of artifacts that have helped to interpret the history of Botetourt County for thousands of visitors. Located directly behind the Botetourt County Courthouse, the museum is housed in a building that dates back to the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Starting out as a one room law office as early as 1791, the building has seen many additions and changes over the years, having become a part of the Western Hotel in the 1850s and having been used as apartments by Dodd and Dodd beginning in the 1930s. One of the charter board members of the society, Mrs. Katherine Harris, resided in the building at one time. Botetourt County acquired the building in 1961 and has allowed The Botetourt County Historical Society, Inc. to utilize the structure continuously since 1966 to house its historical museum. The Botetourt County Historical Society, with the assistance and financial support of the Roanoke Historical Society, was organized in 1966. A committee was formed and three county residents, Dr. J.C. Zillhardt, Mrs. Garland Hopkins, and Mr. Robert Douthat Stoner, assumed leadership in the formation of the museum. Over the years the historical society has operated the museum, filling it with historical items that were loaned or donated. The museum was open for many years only on Saturdays and Sundays, with Mr. Rollin Smith serving as the first curator and Mrs. K. B. Stoner (Bess) with other DAR members serving as hostesses. Many volunteers worked hard over the years to keep the museum and historical society active. Even during a period of time when the society became somewhat inactive, long time President Joseph Buhrman and Mrs. K. B. (Bess) Stoner held the museum together. Mrs. Bess Stoner was responsible for the museum expansion by her tireless efforts and by being a generous benefactor. She left an enduring vision for the museum for future generations to follow. In May 1963, Mr. Garland Stevens, a retired educator, succeeded Rollin Smith as volunteer curator. Mr. Stevens continued to serve the museum over the years as a dedicated volunteer, opening the museum each Sunday. After retiring as curator, Mr. Stevens continued to serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the historical society until his death in January 2004. In 1991, a group of interested citizens met and, with the encouragement of President Joe Buhrman, “reorganized” the historical society. Officers and board members were elected. Emily Honts became president of the historical society in the summer of 1991, and on August 22, 1991, President Honts and 14 directors met and identified goals and future projects for the historical society. Since 1991 a number of major projects have been completed. These include replacing floors of the main gallery, repairing and painting the walls, installing year round climate control (with matching funds from the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors), track lighting, adding glass display cases, cleaning and rearranging a collection that has grown substantially to over 900 from the original 175 artifacts, new labeling of artifacts, enclosing the first and second floor porches and exterior staircase (increasing the size of the museum to its current 7 galleries), establishing a museum store, creating a quarterly newsletter, increasing operating days and hours so that the museum is open daily, creating an endowment fund, reprinting Fulwiler’s Gateway to the Southwest (a history of the Buchanan area), adding a new front porch and front doors, a new roof, and new siding on the rear of the building (these last three renovation projects were funded by Botetourt County), developing a picture album of the collection, publication of a major new book, Dear Nannie . . yours devotedly, Charlie (Robbins and McMillen) and restoring many of the artifacts. John Rader, Jr. succeeded Emily Honts as president of The Botetourt County Historical Society, Inc. in 1998 and Weldon Martin became Executive Director in 2004. Many new programs have been added, membership has increased and there has been growth in the number of visitors and increased sales in the Museum Bookstore.