It all started with a young man, a cigar box, and a collection of arrowheads. That’s the rumor anyway.
It’s fitting that The Valentine, the delightful museum in the heart of the city, has a charming backstory rooted in a boyhood love of collecting.The first museum in Richmond, the History Center was also a family operation, founded by Mann S. Valentine Jr., history lover and businessman, who shared this love with his brother, Edward, a renowned sculptor.
Today, the Valentine brothers would be wholly impressed with the History Center’s collection of costumes, textiles, objects, and photographs. For more than a century, the History Center has been committed to telling the story of Richmond through exhibitions, events, school programs, and guided tours.
The History Center is located in the historic downtown neighborhood known as Court End. Named for the many lawyers who once lived and worked in the area, this district is home to twenty buildings that are designated as historically significant. Here, visitors will discover museums, churches, notable historic homes, and beautiful urban gardens as they stroll along the streets.
Guests of the History Center enjoy access to the exhibition galleries and Edward V. Valentine Sculpture Studio, as well as a guided tour of the Wickham House. Among the current exhibitions in the museum is the Settlement to Streetcar Suburbs: Richmond and its People, a gallery that surveys three centuries of Richmond’s history, beginning with the time of its settlers to its emergence as a commercial and capital city. Biographies of prominent figures from Powhatan to Maggie Walker enhance this overview of the city’s economic, political, and social history.The Edward V. Valentine Sculpture Studio is one of only four surviving sculpture studios in the U.S. that is open to the public. The studio is home to a collection of the artisan’s original work and tools. Edward Valentine is perhaps best known for the Thomas Jefferson statue in Richmond’s historic Jefferson Hotel and the “Recumbent Lee” statue in Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University. The original models for both sculptures are on display in the studio.
The Wickham House next door, a National Historic Landmark, was built by prominent Richmond attorney John Wickham for his large family. A guided tour of the house, which was also the first home of the museum after Mann Valentine purchased it in 1882, illustrates what life Was like in the home in 1812. Many activities and special events are planned over the next two years to commemorate the house during its bicentennial celebration.
In addition to the museum proper, more than 300 walking and bus tours are also offered by the History Center, encompassing a variety of sites that make Richmond what it is today including Hollywood Cemetery, Jackson Ward, Church Hill, Monument Avenue and many more. The tours are a healthy, affordable activity for all ages and are offered April through December.