Archie Bunker’s armchair, the ruby slippers worn in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” and thousands of other treasures line the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, but there’s no need to drive to D.C. to see incredible pieces from our nation’s past.
Open again after its annual winter break, the Jefferson County Museum is home to an astounding collection of artifacts, archives, paintings and photographs that shed light on the history of the area – and its ties to presidents (both revered and not), abolitionist John Brown and others who played key roles in turning points in American history.
“We don’t want our museum to be a secret,” says Jane Rissler, a Jefferson County native who left retirement last year to become the museum’s curator.
Visitors, for instance, can see an original letter written by George Washington in which he shares his thoughts on the death of his younger brother, the man for whom Charles Town is named.
Written to his former aide-de-camp Colonel Burgess Ball on Sept. 22, 1799, the beloved former president’s letter reads in part: “I was the first, and am now the last, of my father’s children by the second marriage who remain. When I shall be called upon to follow them is known only to the giver of life.”
At the time he penned the letter, Washington was still fit, but a sudden illness that December would end his life at 67.
The museum also has an artifact related to James Buchanan, the president widely regarded as the nation’s least effective. On display is a gown belonging to his orphaned niece, Harriet Lane Buchanan, who served as first lady for the never-wed Pennsylvanian.
Another attention-getter is the stout wooden wagon that carried Brown to his 1859 hanging. The museum also has a bit of rope used in his execution.
Other highlights: Civil War weapons and bullets, fine silver, a quilt, 19th -century toys and dolls, farm tools, uniforms from World Wars I and artifacts from Storer College, the African-American school in Harpers Ferry that closed in the 1950s.
New this season is display of Harpers Ferry-manufactured muskets and Hall rifles along with an exhibit by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society that spotlights the 200th anniversary of the birth of Martin Delany.
Born in Charles Town, Delany learned to read and write despite growing up in the slave state of Virginia. He went on to become a physician, scientist, inventor, author, newspaper publisher and Union Army major – one of the most prominent African-Americans of the 19th century.
Want to go?
What: Jefferson County Museum
Where: 200 E. Washington St., Charles Town
When: Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
How much: $3 for adults. Free to anyone who holds a Charles Town Library card. Free to those 18 or younger and to students.
For details: Call 304-725-8628, email curator Jane Rissler firstname.lastname@example.org or go online to www. jeffctywvmuseum.org.