The Best Museums in the U.S. Right in Virginia

One of the many galleries featured in the Hampton University Museum in Hampton, Va. (Courtesy of Hampton History Museum)
One of the many galleries featured in the Hampton University Museum in Hampton, Va. (Courtesy of Hampton History Museum)

Hampton University Museum:

I challenge you to find a museum on any university’s campus that rivals the beauty, curation and history of the Hampton University Museum.

Founded in 1868, by Hampton University founder General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the museum’s purpose was to aid in good education influencing “the head, the hand and the heart.”

As the oldest African-American museum in the United States, the museum will celebrate 150 years in 2018.

The institution has over 200 years of African American fine art with artist like John Thomas Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence and Henry O. Tanner’s renowned painting, The Banjo Lesson.

Walking through the majestic galleries you can also find artifacts from Africa such as traditional regalia, masks, fertility statues from the Ashanti peoples, and gold jewelry including the chief’s crown from the Akan peoples.

What may surprise you is the hundreds of Native American students that attended the University at the request of General Armstrong beginning in 1878. Those students participated in the Native American Education Program that spanned more than 40 years, with the last student graduating in 1923.

The Wigwam dorm, the American Indian boy’s dormitory still stands on Hampton University’s campus today.

In the gallery you can see basketry, beadwork and period photographs from the historic American Indian Education Program.

Hampton University Museum is a true treasure right on the Chesapeake Bay that will have you enamored for hours.

Casemate Museum:

Not like any other museum you’ve probably visited, the Casemate is a museum for the entire family. There is no grand foyer, tall ceilings and cafeteria, just artifacts of Fort Monroe and the Confederacy. The best part about the building is the maze like structure that twists and turns as you duck through the different casemates finally reaching the end at the bountiful gift shop.

Why is it called the Casemate Museum?

The museum is housed in a series of casemates, which are vaulted chambers within the fort’s walls. The casements were once used during the civil war and thereafter to house cannons that would shoot at enemies coming to shore.

In this all brick structure you can find an exhibit of Edgar Allen Poe who was stationed at Fort Monroe from 1828-29.

There is also the Jefferson Davis Cell, where the former president of the Confederacy was imprisoned following his capture by Union troops in May 1865. The Casemate Museum gives a true well-rounded and interesting take on the Confederacy, Southern and ultimately the history of the United States.

Hampton History Museum:

The city of Hampton has its very own museum because it is such a historic treasure and the location of many pivotal moments in the founding of the nation. From Native American chiefdoms, English settlements, arrival of the first Africans, revolutionary and civil wars, to the future and space exploration, Hampton has played a pivotal role in all periods of our nation’s past.

In the Give Me Liberty: Fugitive Slaves and the Long Revolution Against Slavery exhibit, you can learn the inspiring stories of more than 30 slaves from Hampton who escaped to freedom or took up arms during times of war. This groundbreaking exhibit highlights their experiences as part of a powerful slave resistance that existed from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War.

The exhibit will be open to through February 2018.

In September 2016 Margot Lee Shetterly published her book Hidden Figures highlighting three Black women mathematicians who greatly contributed to history in helping launch astronaut John Glenn into orbit.

The Hampton History Museum pays tribute to Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Winston Jackson and Katherine Goble Johnson with the exhibit When the Computer Wore a Skirt: NASA’s Human Computers.

You can learn about the women individually with real artifacts of their career donated by their families.

At the Hampton History Museum you can also experience life in a Kecoughtan lodge in colonial America and how Hampton became “crabtown” because of its booming seafood industry.

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