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Tuesday, August 6, 2013
The Franklin County Historical Society has a problem. It’s actually kind of a good one.
Its headquarters/museum/bookstore is crammed into an old dwelling on Main Street in Rocky Mount, the Flora Morris House.
There, you can feast your eyes on all kinds of historical tidbits about moonshine-making technology and the backwoods characters who devised it; exhibits of famous Civil War-era commanders from Franklin County; Coca-Cola memorabilia; and more.
On the walls are photos of a visit to Rocky Mount by the Dymaxion, an 11-passenger, 1933 van designed by famed inventor Buckminister Fuller. Only three were ever manufactured. The teardrop-shaped contraption got 30 miles to the gallon and looks like a self-propelled Airstream trailer on three wheels.
But the exhibits are so jammed into 2,300 square feet over two stories that if there are more than 10 people in the joint, it can be difficult to move around. Many of the visitors are aged and are challenged by the creaky stairs leading to the second floor.
And the displays are merely a tiny slice of the historical treasures the society owns. There’s lots more in the basement and in off-site storage.
“We have thousands of books, a huge array of uncounted documents including family papers and unpublished research, rare portraits, paintings, photographs, weapons, examples of early life and trade in the area,” said Linda Stanley, director of the historical society.
So the group is planning a 1,000-square-foot expansion that’s going to cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, including installation of an elevator to the second floor.
Its first stab at raising that money comes later this month, with a barbecue gala at the Jubal Early Homeplace, an old tobacco plantation off Virginia 116 that’s now on the National Register of Historic Place.
Favorite son Jubal Early was a confederate general under Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson known partly for his short temper and partly for his daring fighting skills. In the Civil War, Early-led troops got to the outskirts of Washington, closer to the White House than any other rebels got.
His homeplace is among the most prominent Civil War history sites in our region. But it’s barely open to the public. Once per year in the fall, the Jubal Early Preservation Trust and Fincastle Rifles Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp throws a picnic there.
Otherwise, people can get in via advance appointments, which are infrequent. And that’s about it, Stanley said.
Attendees at the rain-or-shine gala can get a rare tour of the house, led by volunteers in Civil War period costumes. But there’s much more.
A live auction conducted by Billy Kingery will feature, among other things, a Cape Cod glass collection of at least 20 pieces, and a handcrafted, smoothed-with-glass moonshiner’s mash fork by Lane Rakes, the society’s “moonshine consultant.”
“The mash fork is very valuable because his house just burned,” Stanley said.
Other items will be up for grabs in a silent auction. Those include “moonshine glassware” — fruit jars on a stem featuring a tiny moonshine still (handcrafted by Franklin County’s own Kevin Hunley); Civil War-themed books; and a signed copy of the Salmons history of Franklin County — only the second one ever published.
There will be Civil War-era dancing, with a caller and music by The Lone Ivy String Band. A 6 p.m. bugle call will launch the barbecue dinner. All the desserts will he homemade.
Tickets are $30 per person or $50 per couple. It sounds like a fun and informative way to spend a late-summer afternoon and evening, and support a good cause at the same time.
Unless it’s 95 degrees and you’re one of the unfortunate volunteers in those Civil War-era costumes, that is.
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