GENERAL INFO: A National Historic Landmark, the Southwest Virginia Museum is in an 1890s Victorian stone mansion with original oak interior. The museum's collection includes more than 25,000 pieces and state of the art exhibits telling the story of the exploration and development of Southwest Virginia from the pioneer era of the 1700s to the mining "boom and bust" era of the late 1800s. The museum also offers many interpretive and special events. The gift shop features unique items representative of the area's history and crafts made by regional artisans. The park offers facilities for meetings, weddings and other special occasions, and the charming Poplar Hill Cottage is available for overnight guests. Click here to download a PDF document (360k) that further describes the museum.
Hours of operation: Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the museum is also open on Mondays from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. It is closed during January and February and on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Park Size: One block.
Weather: Click here to visit the Weather Channel's site for this zip code.
AT-A-GLANCE: The pictographs directly below show park offerings. Click on those of interest or read below for more detail. Mouse-over the image for a short text description or click here to view a legend in which each pictograph's meaning is expressed.
LOCATION: The museum is in Big Stone Gap, off U. S. 23, at the corner of W. First Street North and Wood Avenue. It is 14 miles south of Norton and 35 miles northwest of Kingsport, Tenn. The facility is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. Neighboring areas of Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina are only a one to two hour drive away. Its address is 10 West First Street North, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219.
Latitude, 36.863332. Longitude, -82.779592.
Drive Time: Northern Virginia, 9 hours; Richmond, 7 hours; Virginia Beach/Tidewater, 9 hours; Roanoke, 4 hours.
OVERNIGHT FACILITIES: Poplar Hill Cottage is the perfect mountain getaway. The quaint, garden-themed cottage, located in historic Poplar Hill, is furnished with reproduction furniture. It has three bedrooms, two full baths, a kitchen and an ample living area. The cottage sleeps up to six people.
You’ll find tasteful furnishings as well as a microwave, refrigerator, oven, dishes, cooking utensils, silverware, kitchen towels and glassware. Towels and linens, including mattress covers, pillows, blankets, sheets and pillow cases, are also included. There’s no phone, but most cell phones work here. A TV, DVD player and Wi-Fi access are included.
Check-in is 3 p.m., and check-out is 10 a.m. There is an overnight pet fee. No smoking. Click here for overnight accommodation fees. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance in person or by calling (276) 523-1322 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Full payment must be received by the Southwest Virginia Museum within 14 days after the reservation is made. Visa and MasterCard are accepted over the phone, and checks and money orders are acceptable. A full refund is made if the cancellation is made at least a month before the arrival date, but a $20 fee is charged for cancellations made less than a month beforehand.
Visit a Flickr photoset of the museum's Poplar Hill Cottage.
Click here for details on reservation cancellation and transfer policies. A fee is charged per pet per night for overnight stays.
TRAILS: The museum is an Audubon Bird Sanctuary, and many various songbirds can be seen on the grounds. A permanent outdoor exhibit, the Southwest Virginia Walk of Fame, showcases the region’s heritage. The exhibit advances the knowledge, awareness and appreciation of renowned Southwest Virginians, past and present, who have made significant contributions to the commonwealth, the nation and the world.
Visit the Explore Virginia Outdoors website for enhanced maps and video tours of Southwest Virginia Museum's trails.
WILDLIFE: Virginia State Parks are great places to discover and reconnect with the wild world. Bring a camera and share your captures with the world. But please don't disturb or get too close to the animals. The park is, after all, their home. Here are a few recent natural encounters others have had at Southwest Virginia Museum.
View all wildlife encounter photos from Southwest Virginia Museum.
FISHING, BOATING: While there’s no fishing within this 1.5-acre park, the Powell River’s headwaters in Wise County offer good fishing for redbreast sunfish, rock bass, smallmouth bass, catfish and muskie. There are no public access points on the Powell River so anglers should get permission from the landowner before accessing the river from private land. Lake Keokee is also nearby in Lee County. The lake offers largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish.
EVENTS: Click here to view park events, festivals, workshops and interpretive programs.
VISITOR CENTER, GIFT SHOP: A gift shop on the first floor is stocked with various items reflecting the region's history and culture. The shop offers Victorian-themed collectibles, historically themed children’s toys and games, locally produced crafts, Virginia State Parks souvenirs, many books about local and regional history, and much more. Check out books written by world-renowned authors John Fox Jr. and Adriana Trigiani, both of whom called Big Stone Gap home. Also visit the museum's Gallery in the Gap, which features crafts made by regional artisans.
The museum displays rotating and outreach exhibits throughout the year. Archival services, including a new virtual exhibit room, also are available. Visit the Friends of the Museum website for more information about museum programs and services. Email or call (276) 523-1322 for a calendar of events.
The museum also features an interactive hologram exhibit entitled “Voices of the Hills,” which explores Southwest Virginia’s rich musical heritage and allows visitors to experience the feel of a live performance as part of the tour.
Click here to view park events, festivals, workshops and interpretive programs.
NEARBY ATTRACTIONS: Wilderness Road State Park, Lee County. Natural Tunnel State Park, Scott County (camping). John Fox, Jr., Museum, Harry Meador Coal Museum, Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama and the June Tolliver House in Big Stone Gap. Virginia Heritage Music Trail.
ACCESSIBILITY: Parking spots in the rear of the museum and a sidewalk that leads to the building are universally accessible. Two lifts provide access to the first floor and basement. The museum's restroom is not accessible. On request, however, staff will make available to disabled guests a restroom in the adjacent carriage house, which is closed to the public. Visitors in wheelchairs may visit the grounds, most of which are grassy and flat. Although motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trails, those using electric wheelchairs and electric scooters that meet the federal definition for wheelchairs are allowed there.
SPECIAL FEATURES: The museum is a popular place for weddings. Click here to learn more about wedding offerings here.
HISTORY: The museum is housed in a mansion built in the 1880s by Rufus Ayers, a Virginia attorney general. The museum was bequeathed to the commonwealth in 1946 by C. Bascom Slemp, private secretary to President Calvin Coolidge and a member of the U. S. Congress. The museum was officially dedicated by the state in 1948. It features a collection comprised of more than 25,000 pieces, about one third of which is on display at any given time. The museum chronicles the exploration and development of the region during the pioneer period of the 1700s and the coal boom of the 1890s. It offers activities for kids, scout and school programs, workshops, an annual Festival of Trees program, a quilt show, a music festival and outdoor exhibits. The museum sells archival supplies and offers the opportunity to have pictures of collection pieces copied, as well as copies of reference files. A gift shop at the museum features Victorian-era and pioneer items, local crafts, a large selection of books and Virginia State Parks products. The Victorian Parlor there is available for rent for business and social occasions.
The museum tells the story of the 1890s coal boom and chronicles early exploration and settlement of the region. By the mid-1700s, settlers looking for a fresh start were traveling south out of Pennsylvania and Maryland into the valley of Virginia. In 1775 Daniel Boone pushed the Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap, opening the way west. The flow of immigrants into and through southwestern Virginia increased dramatically.
Braving the unknown and constantly facing the threat of Indian attacks, pioneer settlers were almost totally dependent on the land, their own skills and the contents of their wagon for their every need. Displays of tools, household furnishings, quilts and early commerce tell the story of these hardy pioneers. There are also displays about the area's coal mining booms and busts, and there's an interactive kiosk that features life and labor in the coal camps.
FRIENDS GROUP: The Friends of the Southwest Virginia Museum is a 501(c)(3) organization. As a Citizens Support Organization (CSO), it identifies and promotes activities to conserve, enhance, and interpret cultural and historic resources of the museum. Click here to learn more about the group and its activities.
Master plans must be written for parks before they're built.
The plans are updated at least once every five years thereafter.
The plans cover the size, types, infrastructure and locations of facilities as well as the site's special features and resources.
Three public meetings are held during the initial development of each plan.
Click here (PDF) for this park's master plan.
swvamuseum. Learn more about park offerings by calling 1-800-933-PARK or email resvs. Be sure to specify the park of interest.