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A Glimpse of Frontier Life: Virginia’s Crab Orchard Museum

Virginia is deep in history, and the Crab Orchard Museum – located in Tazewell, Virginia – does its part to keep the culture of that past alive. It’s done both for education as well as for enjoyment, and according to the museum’s leader, it’s all done to make sure future generations grasp the vital lessons learned by pioneers who came before us.

“I believe in our mission,” explained the museum’s executive director, Cynthia Farmer. “Historic Crab Orchard Museum is an educational institution whose mission is to identify, collect, preserve, interpret and promote the diverse Appalachian cultural heritage of Southwest Virginia and the surrounding region.”


Farmer believes the state’s heritage is important, and the museum is part of embracing that. Not only does it provide “space to care for and exhibit” various collections, but it also provides for “a realistic walk back in time.”


“With the help of many educators, demonstrators, volunteers, and other supporters, we continue to provide realistic Pioneer Living Tours to school children each year,” Farmer explained. “These hands-on experiences keep the story of our regional heritage alive from generation to generation. As it has been said before, the hope remains that ‘the future will learn from the past.’”


As a premiere cultural heritage center in southwest Virginia, the museum offers a permanent collection of artifacts, special exhibitions, a “Pioneer Park” displaying over a dozen log and stone buildings that will “reflect life on the frontier during the 19th century.” The structures have been moved to the park from their original locations in southwest Virginia so they can be enjoyed for public viewing. From a blacksmith’s shop to a loom house to a horse carriage barn, visitors can “step back in time” for a peek at earlier ways of living. In the barn, they can see unique artifacts of times long ago, such as a velocipede bicycle, or “Cyrus McCormick’s second prototype for his famous reaper, which revolutionized harvesting in the 19th century.


Farmer explained how the history in her region might run deeper than it does elsewhere. It has roots that dug a sure foothold and traveled far over many generations. The marks left by those people – some of our first pioneers – helped our nation take shape and grow into what it is today.


“As we all know, the first successful English colony was Jamestown, established May 14, 1607, near Chesapeake Bay,” she explained. “So, Virginia will forever be known as a key part of the foundation of our nation. Our regional museum located in southwestern Virginia continues the story of Virginia. This museum is dedicated to the preservation of the history of the pioneers and brave families that settled the Appalachian Mountains to create farms and communities they could call their own.” She continued, saying, “A portion of our museum’s story begins with the first settlers of the area. A replica of the original Fort Witten – built in 1774 by Thomas Witten, the first settler of the area – is located on the museum grounds. Fort Witten is a blockhouse style building, a type of fortification that was frequently constructed during the 18th century in isolated areas as a means of defense.”


She said when visiting the log and stone buildings of Pioneer Park, “our visitors have the opportunity to become a momentary, but memorable part of the hardy pioneering culture by melding emotionally with this peaceful, historical setting; it’s a true reflection of the Virginia experience.”


The museum hosts crafting workshops; holiday events; history encampments; summer camps for kids; and several festivals, including the Annual Tazewell County Old Time & Bluegrass Fiddlers’ Convention, happening again on July 12-13, 2024. For more information on the Historic Crab Orchard Museum and its events, visit


Farmer believes strongly in the lessons that can be learned at the museum, and that her region should be explored by all who are interested in learning not just about the roots of Virginia, but the underpinnings of so much that we consider American.


“Virginia will always be a latch pin to the founding of our nation,” Farmer said. “It’s a state rich with the history of the brave visionaries that helped structure our nation. From the first colonies to the pioneers that settled throughout the state, we should take pride in our heritage.” Lastly, she added, “I like to think that Virginians today still honor and respect the efforts of those who came before.” 


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