By W Robert Kelly, Jr., Museums Coordinator - Gloucester County Parks, Recreation & Tourism
Prominently situated adjacent to the historic Gloucester Courthouse sits the 251-year-old Botetourt Building that now houses the Gloucester Museum of History. The imposing masonry structure dates from 1770 and first served as a roadside tavern. It is one of the largest, as well as one of the few brick taverns surviving from the pre-Revolutionary period. The building served as lodging for Gloucester’s visitors from the 1770s through the 1950s, first as a tavern and later as a hotel. In 1965, the county purchased the property to be used as offices. In 2000, the building became home to the Gloucester Museum of History. Today, the museum preserves and interprets the county’s rich history through exhibitions, programming, and a 3,000-object collection.
Caption: A 2021 view of the Gloucester Museum of History from the northeast
From the earliest days when the Virginia Indians called the area home, to more recent stories related to Civil Rights, the museum interprets the county’s complete history. One of the newest exhibits is “Awakening: The Life & Legacy of T.C. Walker” unveiled in 2021. Featuring a reproduction of the T.C. Walker mural from Main Street, the exhibit examines the life story of the first African American lawyer in Gloucester County. Born enslaved, Walker went on to graduate from Hampton Institute, and would later serve as Superintendent for Gloucester Negro Schools and as a member of the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors. He lived through the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras and did great things to help African Americans across the Commonwealth. It is hoped that visitors will explore the stories from the mural, learn about the
life of a local hero, and be inspired to make a difference in their community.
Caption: “Awakening: The Life & Legacy of T.C. Walker” is the museum’s newest exhibit.
Additional exhibits related to the American Revolution and Civil War are located on the museum’s second floor. This space is particularly interesting as it retains considerable original historic fabric from the building’s early use as a tavern. Original hardwood floors and window trim within the large “ballroom,” present an atmosphere reminiscent of the 18th century and Colonial Williamsburg. The large basement contains additional exhibits featuring artifacts that tell the stories of Gloucester’s agricultural history and the importance of the county’s daffodil industry.
To complete a visit requires experiencing the other museum properties and the Gloucester Visitor Center, all located within the historic courtcircle, less than 100 feet away. The circle contains five historic structures: the 1766 Colonial Courthouse, two former Clerk’s Offices, (the 1823 Clayton Building and the 1896 Roane Building), a jail constructed in 1873, and a debtors’ prison that dates to 1824. The Colonial Courthouse, one of the oldest in Virginia, is still used for official county functions. The Visitor Center boasts a new interactive exhibit about Werowocomoco, Pocahontas, and the Virginia Indians, and provides an experience for tourists and residents alike. It is a great place to visit for local information or to find a unique gift. To learn more about the Gloucester Museum of History please visit https://www.gloucesterva.info/820/Museum-of-History or call 804-693-1234. The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 11:00AM – 3:00PM and admission is free.