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One Woman's Opinion

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Our Treasure: Middlesex Museum

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.—A fun family day trip this summer would be a visit to the Middlesex Museum in Saluda. It provides a pleasant, educational and nostalgic return to the past.

On a recent visit I heard  myself exclaiming over and over, “Oh, I remember those!” upon seeing items displayed in yesterday’s general store. Especially savored were toys such as jacks sets, jump ropes, (do children still play jacks and jump rope?)  marbles, old-fashioned dolls, wooden blocks, tea sets, and even a gum ball machine.

The candy displayed in glass cabinets looked just like the display at old Baumbart’s Drug Store back in Vermilion, Ohio, when I was growing up: jars of gum drops, licorice, Tootsie Rolls, jelly beans, peppermints, bubble gum, caramels, jaw breakers, toasted peanuts, pastry and even some half-century-old Nabisco Co. biscuits  that probably now taste like cardboard.

A big attraction is the Lt. General Lewis “Chesty” Puller display of photographs, Medals of Honor won during his distinguished military service, and even a sketch of the ship (FFS-23) built in 1981 and named after him.

I also liked the “Growth of Technology” display that Mary Steed Ewell showed me of about 25 irons owned by Vaughan and Ruth Noble. The irons ranged from flat irons that were heated on hot coals; roller irons for sleeves and collars where the inner rod was heated in the fire first and then inserted into the iron; later wood-fired irons with a tiny oven within; a gas iron with a dial on it like a kitchen stove; and the eventual electric iron.

I tried picking up one of the first electric models and found it was extraordinarily heavy, at least over 30 pounds. The thought that some poor woman had to lift it all day long was sobering . . . and all for the want of a freshly-ironed shirt for her husband to wear.

The museum also has a gift store offering history and genealogy books by local authors available for sale, along with prints, tote bags, and note paper featuring local scenes.
The museum was once the location of the “Jones Garage.” The front room had a pool table and was probably a popular meeting place for natives, but  it was opened in 1998 as a county museum. The Nobles have presented most of their personal collection in a “general store theme” so future generations will know how people purchased what they needed before Wal-Mart came on the scene.

Mary pointed out that the old general stores provided citizens something that Wal-Mart doesn’t have—a post office.” Our museum has the original window of a post office once used in Baltimore,” she added.

There also are hats, dresses, suits, pocketbooks, garden and farm tools ranging from scythes, cycles, pitchforks, axes and saws, and even a cider press. I would not have been a bit surprised if Mary had even showed me a still taken from the back woods of Middlesex County.

Some of the original shelves came from Noble’s General Store and a glass display case came from the old Amburg Food Center (Hundley General Merchandise) in Deltaville.
One interesting artifact was an iron calf collar studded with points so sharp the mother cow would quickly stop nursing her calf.

Other items were a baby buggy, spinning wheel, brass cash register, and a 1907 Sears catalogue in which one could order anything that the country store did not have on hand.
The last case held sewing equipment such as buttons, ribbons, needles, thimbles and scissors. Several shelves had been dedicated to medicinal supplies. One that really caught my eye was Mr. Kilmer’s special “Swamproot” tonic (10% alcohol) to “promote the flow of urine.” 

It is reputed that someone once asked Mr. Kilmer exactly what “Swamproot” was good for and he answered, ”About two million a year!”

Milk bottles, scales to weigh almost anything, meat grinders, a cheese round with its own blade, an early wall telephone, padlocks, knives, coffee grinders, eyeglasses, lanterns, pipes, bottle openers, shaving tools, baskets, washboards, vacuum cleaners—the sorts of things children should see to realize there really was life in the “olden days” and everything was not always made of plastic and manufactured in China.

The latest museum project is an effort to collect memorabilia from early county schools. Anyone who has material to donate should contact the museum.

Thank you, Middlesex Museum, for working so hard to preserve our history. There is no real civilization without an understanding and appreciation of our past. ©2009

posted 06.03.2009

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