When it was first established in 1770 Botetourt (pronounced “bot-te-tot”) County extended from its current location in the mountains of southwest Virginia, all the way to the Mississippi River, and included all or part of what are now the states of Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. A county that big also has a big history, and focal point for this history resides in the Botetourt County Historical Museum, located on the Court House Square in Fincastle, Virginia.
Today, the county has been pared down to a mere 546 square miles, but the history remains.
The county is named for Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt (Lord Botetourt), a governor of the Virginia Company.
Located in Courthouse Square (behind the Courthouse), Fincastle, Va., the museum is run by the local Historical Society. Apart from the museum, the building has a history of its own. Originally, it was a one-room law office (1791). Over the years, rooms have been added and removed. It has been part of a hotel 1950s) and used as apartments (1930s). It was eventually purchased by the county in 1961, after which, (in 1966) it was turned over to the Botetourt Historical Society for use as a county museum.
The museum houses documents and articles, art, artifacts and many historical items, many of which date back to the first settlers who moved westward from the coastal areas in Virginia’s earliest colonial days.
For its small size, it is packed with the history of life in the county dating back to the earliest settlers and even earlier with Native American artifacts. Most items in the museum are from homes and families in the county and serve as a valuable resource for genealogists for families who have roots in the area.
Since the building began as a simple law office, it is natural that there are displays focusing on justice in the area, artifacts from the original log courthouse, including a wooden witness chair wooden bench.
The museum offers a glimpse of what home life was like in the 1700s and 1800s, with displays of cookware, books, a spinning wheel, utensils, hunting and farming tools, clothing and household furniture.
But the most valuable aspect of the museum’s collection is the information available, from personal records and journals, maps, histories, family bibles, store clerk records, etc. The museum also offers a wide selection of books relating to the history of the area from colonial days through World War II to the present. This is the logical starting place for any genealogy or historical research involving the county and the early history of southwest Virginia.
The museum is open daily from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, and Sundays 2:00 to 4:00 PM. There is no admission fee.
The following is an excerpt from the Museum’s website at: www.bothistsoc.org.
“Since 1991 a number of projects have been completed. These include replacing the floors of the main gallery, repairing and painting the walls, installing year round climate control (with matching funds from the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors), track lighting, adding glass display cases, cleaning and rearranging a collection that has increased to over 800 artifacts (from the original 175 when the museum opened), new labeling of the collection, enclosing the first and second floor porches and exterior staircase (increasing the size of the museum to its current 8 galleries), establishing a museum store, creating a quarterly newsletter, increasing operating days and hours so that the museum is open daily, creating an endowment fund, creating an educational guide for students, reprinting Fulwiler’s Gateway to the Southwest (a history of the Buchanan area), adding a new front porch and front doors, developing a picture album of the collection (to enable handicapped visitors to enjoy the collection), and restoring many of the artifacts.”