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Middleburg Museum Moving in a Historic Direction

As published in Country Zest and Style, Summer 2024 Edition

By Peyton Tochterman

In the heart of Middleburg, where the shops line the streets with a kind of polished nostalgia, there exists an extraordinary place - the Middleburg Museum.


Conceived not in the boardrooms of big city planners but during the humble beginnings of a Beautification Committee meeting led by visionary Cissy Bunn in 1990, the museum on Madison Street began its life as a place where weary travelers could find a restroom and locals could catch up on town happenings.


Enter architect Vicky Lewis, who returned after thirty bustling years to breathe life into a new venture. Alongside President Dorsey deButts, the pair dreamed of more than just a pit stop but a center of community and history.


With Vicky's impressive resume, which included stints at the Smithsonian and The Museum of the Bible in Washington and the George Bush Museum in Dallas, and Dorsey's relentless passion for Middleburg's heritage, the museum is emerging as the central repository of local artifacts and untold stories. The 13-member board includes Jennifer Long, also pictured on the ZEST cover with Dorsey and Vicky, who produces graphics, branding and computer design work for some of the nation's most well-known companies.


"Our mission is to wrap the community and its history around every visitor like a warm blanket,” Dorsey said. "We're not just about horses and hounds but about the stories of the people and places that make up this area - the 24 villages, each with its tale, within a 20-mile radius of our doorstep.”


The board is a collection of personalities and skills, all united in the task of telling these often overlooked stories. Tales of unknown farriers, to Middleburg leading the way in the Commonwealth of Virginia to successfully desegregate.


The museum goal is to bring forward all members of the community, honoring their contributions through exhibits that focus on the four main periods of local history: land grants and the Native Americans, the tobacco and wheat plantations, the horse country, and finally the modern period of heritage and stewardship.


Powered entirely by donations and volunteers, the museum faces the usual challenges -a financial strain being foremost. Yet, it thrives on its community connections, hosting events like map exhibitions by revered local historian Eugene Scheel, and the story of Henson and Lucinda Willis and their family, who founded Willisville.


Each exhibit and program is carefully selected to support the museum's mission of education and preservation. This includes their modern stewardship initiatives which emphasize the importance of preserving local lands, streams, and farms.


A stroll through the museum offers a variety of experiences. One-third of the visitors are locals, for whom the museum's area map and timeline evoke a rush of memories and affirm their place in the region's history. Another third are from the mid-Atlantic, often in town for weddings and eager to dive into the diverse tapestry that is Middleburg, extending beyond the equestrian to the historic and culturally rich.


The final third come from as far afield as Europe and the West Coast, each finding something uniquely personal in the museum's exhibits.


The museum isn't just a place to visit; it's an active community player. Collaborations with other museums, local artists, and community groups help enrich the offerings and ensure a broad and inclusive portrayal of Middleburg's heritage.


Looking to the future, the museum has big plans. These include reestablishing its presence in the beloved Pink Box location this summer, developing a community garden, and expanding its educational programming with events like a July reading of the Declaration of Independence and a Juneteenth picnic.


"Our board is profoundly active,” said Dorsey, pride evident in her voice. "They're not just figureheads; they are doers, involved in every aspect from curating exhibits, printing materials, and leading installations.”


For a visitor, the Middleburg Museum offers a gateway to understanding a community that is about so much more than its picturesque facade. It's about the rich, layered histories of the people who have shaped this area from its founding days to the present - a story the museum tells with both reverence and a keen eye to the broader context of American history.


In essence, the Middleburg Museum is not just preserving history; it's making it. One story, one exhibit, one visitor at a time.

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