Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Summer Road Trip: the Blue Ridge Parkway

Every summer, I develop this fantasy of hopping in a red convertible, top down, wind streaming in my hair, as I drive across the country without a care in the world. In reality, my aging car is pretty crummy, with semi-functional air-conditioning and plenty of evidence that I own a dog that loves to shed. Regardless of my sad set of wheels, the itch to take a road trip persists. So today I thought we’d take you on a virtual road trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at a few of the Blue Star Museums along the way.

Construction on the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1935 as a means of creating work opportunities during the Great Depression. Since then, it has been coined “America’s Favorite Drive,” and it truly has become one of the New Deal’s greatest gifts. Winding 469 miles from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina, the parkway wends its way past gorgeous overlooks and rolling farmland.

Before your journey gets underway, learn about the land you’ll be driving through at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia. In the main museum, you’ll find 50,000 square feet of historical and artistic objects that help explain the history of the Shenandoah Valley. There is also a gallery devoted to miniature houses and rooms, which are decorated with 4,000 tiny objects---including teeny, functioning chandeliers. If the weather’s fine, you might also want to take a stroll through the museum’s six acres of gardens.

About 200 miles south is the Virginia Museum of Transportation. The museum was originally operated by the city of Roanoke and the Norfolk and Western Railway, and still maintains an exceptional collection of all things railroad. In addition to the South’s largest collection of diesel locomotives, you’ll find a recreation of a 1940s-era rail depot, an extensive model railroad, and history exhibits such as how railroads influenced the development of circuses. Not into trains? That’s okay. The museum also features exhibits on cars, buses, and aviation.

Our next stop is the William King Museum, which offers a good mix of regional and international art and culture. This summer, visitors can browse contemporary quilts from around the world, book- and paper-based pieces created by local artists, and an exhibit on the history of the dulcimer, a popular instrument within the Appalachian music tradition. There's also an outdoor sculpture garden with a number of large-scale, contemporary works.

Once you hit North Carolina, there’s a whole other culture to discover. Delve into the region at the the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum, where you’ll find glasswork from the nearby Penland School of Crafts, locally made pottery, and a seasonal exhibit on the musical traditions of Appalachia. Through November 2, the museum will also be showcasing work from American Impressionists in five of its galleries.

Not too far east of the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum is the Wilkes Heritage Museum, which explores the history of Wilkes County. The museum explores all aspects of the county's past, from its role in the Revolutionary War to its tradition of moonshine and horse racing. The museum also houses the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, whose inductees include a number of NEA National Heritage Fellows Arthel "Doc" WatsonMike Seeger, and Earl Scruggs. (Click here to learn about the new 2013 class of Heritage Fellows!)

Have another museum you love to visit along the Blue Ridge Parkway? Let us know in the comments!

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