The Historical Society of Western Virginia

    Improve listing

Founded in 1957, the Historical Society of Western Virginia is a private, not-for-profit corporation located in Roanoke, Virginia.  The Historical Society educates and collects in a broad spectrum of cultural heritage with emphasis on that of western Virginia. With its administrative offices housed in Center in the Square’s cultural complex, HSWV operations are implemented by 15 staff, over 100 volunteers, and a 26-member board of directors, composed of local business and community leaders. HSWV is composed of four operating divisions

History Museum of Western Virginia

The History Museum’s purpose is the collection and preservation of material pertaining to the history of the area, and the dissemination of knowledge and information relating to that history.  Facilities include approximately 16,850 square feet in Center in the Square, and include changing exhibition galleries, a library and media center, climate-controlled collections storage, education gallery, and administrative offices.  The collections comprise the largest repository of material in the Roanoke Valley devoted solely to tracing human history. Among the nearly 6,000 items in the Museum’s collection are Native American material culture; medical texts and surgical implements used by patriot William Fleming; a 1781 land grant deed signed by Thomas Jefferson; Civil War artifacts; militaria; and numerous examples of the tools of early trades. These objects offer a glimpse of how life was lived in our part of the Commonwealth, creating a vivid cultural and educational experience. A full schedule of rotating exhibits allows the Museum to focus on a variety of people, industries and events that have influenced the development of western Virginia. Scholarship is an important component of the History Museum’s mission.

The Watts Library in the museum houses a collection of some 1,800 books, 8,000 photographs, 2,000 slides, 150 maps, 800 periodicals, and thousands of documents and manuscripts, including business records and family papers. The Library responds to numerous requests for historical information, and makes resources available to the general public for on-site research. The Museum also organizes tours to historic sites throughout the area. In addition to operating historic sites, it offers special lectures held each month on topics of historical interest.  Finally, the History Museum sponsors its “Step Into the Past” education programs, covering subjects ranging from Native American and pioneer life to the age of immigration and the African American experience in the region. Led by our staff educator, both in-house and in the schools, these programs offer hands-on learning opportunities and are designed to meet the state’s Standards of Learning.

Last year the History Museum welcomed approximately 34,000 visitors to its galleries, and served 17 school jurisdictions, encompassing over 100 visiting school groups, and an additional 7,000 outreach students. More than 120 dynamic volunteers aid the History Museum in a variety of areas, ranging from library administration to collections management.

O. Winston Link Museum

Opened to the public in January of 2004, the O. Winston Link Museum is independent operating division of the Society.  The Link Museum focuses on the striking photographic and auditory works developed by artist O. Winston Link between 1955 and 1960.  A successful commercial photographer from New York, Link brought his studio outdoors in creating carefully arranged images designed to convey the then steam propelled Norfolk & Western Railway and the communities and countryside along the right of way.  Covering much of Western Virginia and bordering portions of North Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland, Link took advantage of the region’s then unique combination of mountainous terrain, sparsely arranged populations, and steam rail infrastructure to capture the end of America’s once thriving industrial age. 

Realizing that new economic models, trade, and particularly the automobile, would bring this era to a close, Link worked feverishly, taking over 2,000 images and 100 7” reels of sound recordings in twenty-one trips (which translates into over 60 hours of recordings).  Today, Link’s work constitutes the single most important photographic series taken of the region.

Largely ignored for over twenty years, following their production, Winston’s works enjoyed a series of international exhibitions, recordings and two published books beginning in the 1980s.  Today, Link’s N&W images are known worldwide.  Wishing that his legacy be preserved, and would remain available to the communities he traversed, Link began negotiations with the Historical Society of Western Virginia in 2000, selecting the site for the Museum, the former N&W Passenger Station, himself. The Link Museum has entertained and educated more than 100,000 paying visitors onsite, and has played host to countless other official guests including local business leaders, state and national politicians, and of course, numerous school groups.

One of the museum’s main objectives is to increase exposure and interactions with schools and organizations in the geographic areas served by the Link Museum.  To that end, the museum has developed nearly a dozen programs specifically designed to meet Virginia’s state-mandated Standards of Learning (SOL’s) and address the needs of children from elementary school through high school.  Many of these programs cover topics such as the importance of railroads in the development of national infrastructure, Link’s photography and the visual arts.  Each program utilizes the museum’s collection to illustrate teaching points.  All of the museum’s educational programs for students employ hands-on, interactive teaching methods.

Crystal Spring Pump Station

Listed on both the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, the Pump Station is located at the foot of Mill Mountain. It consists of a modest one-story brick building which houses the magnificent steam-driven water pump that once served as the primary source of the city's water for over 50 years. Manufactured in 1905 by the Snow Steam Pump Company of Buffalo, N.Y., the pump was shipped to Roanoke by rail, put together on site, and the building built around it.  Replaced by electric pumps in the late 1970s, the old Snow pump fell into disrepair until 1976, when the Roanoke Valley Bicentennial Commission and the then-Roanoke Valley Historical Society refurbished the pump and opened the site to visitors. In cooperation with the Western Virginia Water Authority, the Crystal Spring Pump Station is open to visitors from April through October.

Kegley Publications

The Kegley Publication Fund was established in 2003 in memory of F. B. Kegley of Wythe County, author of Kegley's Virginia Frontier.  The fund was established by George Kegley, nephew of the historian, and his wife, Louise Kegley.  Created with proceeds from the sale of Kegley’s Virginia Frontier, the fund operates in a similar spirit with wholesale income proceeds of works underwritten being returned to the fund to provide for future works. Through Kegley Publications, the Historical Society has published sixteen books and thirty-six annual Journals.