Collections Include Family Papers, Medical History of Area
Collections are the foundation of the Historical Society of Western Virginia. They tell the stories of those individuals who have migrated through, lived and worked in the greater Roanoke Valley, as well as in Southwestern Virginia. Since its charter in 1958, the Society has collected all aspects of regional history and is now the repository for the collections of the O. Winston Link Museum.
The History Museum’s collection encompasses a wide expanse of archival and cultural material, telling the story of the Greater Roanoke Valley through its inhabitants. The museum’s collections range from the 1740s up to the early 2000s, and provide a unique look into the area’s early settlers, Roanoke’s boom and bust as a railroad town, as well as the domestic and business related ventures of the area’s residents. Not all of the museum’s collection is online, but many of the broad collection categories below can be researched through the museum’s online database.
- Breckinridge Collection– Spanning the Breckinridge family of Botetourt from 1746 up to 1926, the Breckinridge collection is composed of primarily correspondence to the Breckinridge family at Grove Hill.
- Campbell Collection – The Campbell Collection are the papers of Reverend W. C. Campbell, pastor of First Presbyterian Church from 1881-1936.
- Ellen Graham Anderson Collection – A collection of family photographs and scrapbooks from artist Ellen Graham Anderson, a Lexington native and Parisian trained modern art movement artist. The Anderson collection at the University of Virginia contains a number of her original paintings and sketches created from 1912-1959.
- Jane Stuart Smith Collection – The Jane Stuart Smith collection encompasses family papers, journals, and photographs of internationally renowned opera singer, Jane Stuart Smith. Jane was also the daughter of R.M. ‘Racehorse’ Smith, president of the Norfolk & Western Railway from 1946-1958.
- Palmer Collection – A combination of Gale, Harding, Harvey, McClanahan, and Palmer families, this collection highlights correspondence, genealogy, photographs, scrapbooks, and some three-dimensional items related to the Gale family. Joseph A. Gale, surgeon for the N&W, arrived in Roanoke in the early 1850s, and set up his own surgery in Roanoke County. He married Eliza Simmons, the granddaughter of Lewis Speedwell Harvey and Frances Thacker Burwell (a direct descendant of Edward Digges, Colonial governor of Virginia 1655-1656, and Sir Dudley Digges, an English politician). Joseph Gale’s son, Sparrell Simmons Gale, started Lewis-Gale Hospital with Joseph N. Lewis in 1909 in downtown Roanoke. S.S. Gale’s daughter, Josephine Gale, married Allen Ingles Palmer – a prominent artist and descendant of the McClanahan (of Roanoke) and Ingles (of Blacksburg) families. The photographic and scrapbook collections relate primarily to the Harding/Gale family.
- White Collection–Papers of Clare White, historian, author, journalist and former staff member of the Historical Society. The papers relate mainly to her research on William Fleming and the publication of the manuscript William Fleming, Patriot, in 2001.
Business Collection – The business collection is comprised of the papers and ledgers for many early Roanoke businesses, such as S. H. Heironimus, the Marsteller Corporation, McGuire Feed & Farmer’s Supply Co., Norfolk & Western, and many more.
Early Roanoke Collection – A collection of land deeds, patents, grants, contracts, and correspondence relating the to the settlement and growth of the Roanoke area, starting in the 1770s through Roanoke’s growth in the 1880s, its bust in the 1890s, and the tourism tactics used in the 1920s to draw people back into the area.
Historic Books– The collection encompasses yearbooks from Virginia College and Roanoke High School, as well as a historic cookbook collection, William Fleming’s personal medical books, children’s books and family bibles.
Scrapbook Collection – This collection is a range of personal and business-related scrapbooks with the majority of the collection occurring between 1920 and 1960.
Ledger Collection – Mostly business ledgers; the collection ranges from 1820-1930.
Theatre & Music History – In the early 2000s, the Historical Society absorbed the Museum of Theatre History. The collection included theatrical programs, photographs, architectural elements and histories on many early theaters in the Roanoke Valley.
Postcard Collection – Postcard collections and single cards relating to Roanoke, Virginia, and holidays.
Photograph & Negative Collection – Encompassing more than 12,000 original photographs, the collection covers all areas of life in the Roanoke Valley, including prominent people, places and events. The entirety of this collection is online for research.
Neighborhood & Cemetery Files – Photographs and information on some of the Greater Roanoke Valley’s houses, neighborhoods and cemeteries, along with any Historic Preservation projects, such as the current Mountain Valley Pipeline project.
Newspaper Collection – Ranging from Big Lick’s early newspapers through the Roanoke Times.
Magazine, Journal and Calendar Collection – The museum has a number of German calendars and almanacs, c. 1840-1860, early women’s fashion magazines, Historical Society calendars and Norfolk & Western calendars.
Blueprint & Map Collection – This collection contains numerous unnumbered blueprints and plans of Roanoke houses, neighborhoods and subdivisions, as well as city plans.
Textile & Costume Collection – A vast but wildly erratic collection, the museum’s costume collection contains several key categories: quilts and coverlets, women’s clothing, men’s clothing, children’s clothing, wedding attire, accessories (purses, stockings, jewelry, parasols, and hats), shoes, linens and lingerie. The collection features everyday wear or special occasion wear, such as evening gowns or wedding attire. The earliest quilt in the collection is from the 1840s, while the earliest piece of historic dress is a wedding dress from the 1830s.
Furniture Collection – A relatively small collection, the majority of the furniture in the Museum’s permanent collection has a provenance of Buena Vista and the Tayloe Rogers estate, ranging from the 1820s to the 1860s. A number of early pieces are currently on view at the museum, including an early 19th century corner cupboard and a blanket chest, both brought to Roanoke by the Vinyard family, as well as a c. 1805-1810 tall case clock brought to Roanoke from New England.
Farming Collection – Made up of mostly handmade tools that reflect the earliest settlers in Southwest Virginia and how they created their homestead.
Medical Collection – Ranging from medicines to medical tools, the majority of items in this collection are dated up to 1930.
Flood of 1985 Collection – Collection of framed and mounted photographs of nationally recognized photographer Tommy Firebaugh concerning the Roanoke 1985 flood after Hurricane Juan, also known as the Election Day Flood. On November 4, 1985, the Roanoke River rose 23.35 feet in 10 hours, causing catastrophic flooding throughout the downtown area and surrounding environs.
Military Collection – From the Spanish-American War to Vietnam, the military collection houses uniforms, medals, photographs, ephemera and other related items. The majority of the collection is from WWII, with only a few items from the Spanish American War and Vietnam.
Winston Link Museum Collections – Begun in 2004, the O. Winston Link Museum showcases the photographs and equipment of New York photographer O. Winston Link. The collection, originally documenting the Norfolk & Western project from 1955-1960, now encompasses negatives, photographs and three-dimensional materials not only from Link’s commercial enterprises, but items relating to the Norfolk & Western Railway in the 1950s.