Nestled in the hills just outside of Galax in beautiful Grayson County, Virginia is Matthews Living History Farm and Museum. This 21 acre working farm transports you back in time to around 1900. On a typical day at the farm, you might see Arwen, the farm's manager, dressed in her period costume, tending the livestock -- cattle, chickens, oxen, and pigs. She might be weeding the garden or canning something from it. Dying arts from the period are practiced here on a regular basis. You might see soap being made, chairs being caned,quilting, blacksmithing, or wood carving. Two beautiful oxen plow the fields. Kittens play among the buildings and rub up against visitors. In other words, inasmuch as is possible, you will visit an authentic working farm. You won't look at tools encased behind glass like you might in a typical museum; you'll see them in action.
The Matthew's Living History Farm and Museum is primarily staffed by volunteers whose aim is to maintain the cultural heritage of the Upper New River Valley. They prove what many of us already know. The people of this region were strong and self reliant. When the depression hit, they were not nearly so affected by it because they used their skills to survive. They could take care of themselves. Not only could they survive, they were able to thrive. Their music is as pure, natural, and unforgettable as these mountains themselves. Music is an integral part of every event held at the farm.
The foundation is involved in many community events to preserve the area's rich cultural heritage. They are active in the schools, working along with 4H, to educate children on agriculture, history, science, and the environment. Recently they have added a butterfly garden to every school. Teachers often bring groups out to the farm for field trips. Workshops are hosted here at the farm frequently to teach traditional arts such as soap and basket making and animal care classes.
Recently, the foundation hired a new manager, Arwen Cayton, who has fabulous ideas and has instituted lots of new events. The first annual Homesteader Day Camp was held in July for kids ages 9-13. Campers got to experience first hand what living on a farm at the turn of the 20th Century was like. They baked cookies in a wood fired stove, learned wilderness survival skills, cooked over an open fire, identified trees, learned to care for chickens and rabbits, worked a garden, along with many other fun educational activities. The culminating event was a cookout where children shared their newly acquired skills with parents.
When school is out, children come to the farm for Reading on the Front Porch. Arwen dresses in her long dress and reads to children. This year she chose pioneer stories all written from 1890 to 1940! Children were invited to bring a lunch and enjoy a picnic on the grounds when the reading was over. The event was held from 10:00 - 11:00 AM on Wednesday mornings with a tea party as the culminating activity! In addition, a Community Jam and Potluck Supper finished out the day from 6:00 -- 9:00 PM. Many musicians come out and bring a dish or dessert for an old fashioned music jam. This event is going so well that it will continue through the fall until the weather stops cooperating. Come out to listen and bring your instrument if you play!
Visitors are always welcome to tour the farm. When you arrive at the farm, there are a couple of tour options. Many take the self-guided tour. There is a booklet to send you in the right direction and provide information about what you are seeing. At many of the buildings and rooms throughout the house, there are informational plagues providing details. If you're lucky, Arwen will be there, and she will take you on a tour which I highly recommend! On my tour, we started in the house. Arwen took us through the downstairs and told us about everything from the furniture to the wallpaper. She discussed the family history of the home going back to the cabin that the original owners lived in. We listened to stories of the way the home was used from birthing babies to community wakes. The house and farm has a rich history of mountain herbs and medicines that you will hear about on your tour. Not everything is known about the history of the house and farms, and Arwen plans to spend some time this winter doing more research on this topic.
From the house we went outside to see the animals, buildings, and gardens. Penelope is the biggest pig I've ever laid eyes on! Gus and Gilbert, the oxen, are beautiful and healthy animals. Arwen hopes to conduct more events with them as the focus in the months to come after an oxen workshop recently held at the farm was such a success. Foghorn is the most beautiful rooster to ever roost on a farm. Not only that, he's gentle! The farm has rich springs making it prime land for gardening. The kitchen gardens produce a bountiful harvest and are surrounded by flowers that attract butterflies of all species!
Other buildings are interesting as well with many tools used during the period. Take a look inside a blacksmith shop. Inspect the barns. Check out the chicken coop and the new pig "fortress." There is an original spring house and an old log cabin located on the property. One new addition is the pavilion. This is where the community jams and many of the events take place. This open air pavilion has a lovely stone fireplace with modern restrooms. It's the ideal place to hold a rustic country wedding.
There is ALWAYS something going on at Matthews Living History Farm and Museum. Three biggies are on their way this Fall! First make plans to attend the Civil War Living History Day followed by a Farm to Table Dinner on August 24. The Kentucky 1st Reenactors help with this live reenactment/demonstration. Walk through the encampment to see what life was like for soldiers during the Civil War. Marching and firing demonstrations will be held all day and period music will play throughout the day. The Farm to Table dinner begins at 6:00 PM. This is a family style dinner with all food raised on the farm or locally. Homemade desserts top off the dinner. *Tickets are required for this event and are $30 for adults; $15 for youth ages 8-18. All proceeds go to the educational efforts of the museum. This is an event unique to Grayson County. "It's more than just a dinner; it's dinner and an experience!" Make plans to attend!
*Tickets may be purchased at the Matthews Living History Farm or at The Treasury inside the Historic 1908 Courthouse in Independence.
On September 7 beginning at 10:00 AM, participate in Stories of the Stitch and Heritage Day. This is a FREE event sponsored by The Arts Council of the Twin Counties. Beautiful quilts will be on display, but the best part is that you get to hear the stories behind them! Vendors will be on-site with handmade arts and crafts. There will be various demonstrations along with apple butter making. Brite Lite Photography will also be on the premises to take photos. This will be a fun day with all sorts of food, activities, and creations to behold!
Another big event in store at the farm is the Pumpkin Festival to be held the week of October 21. The plan is to decorate every porch on the farm! People are invited to bring in carved pumpkins all week to be lit on October 26 for public viewing. It will be spectacular! More details are soon to follow!
Arwen has plans for other workshops for the rest of the summer and into the early part of fall including a possible rabbit workshop, another wood burning class, and more soap making. Be sure to follow the Matthews Living History Farm and Museum on Facebook or Grayson County Tourism to stay abreast on all the neat events taking place! Volunteers are always needed. Please contact Arwen Cayton at the Farm to inquire about opportunities: 276-773-3080.