Founded in 1831, the same year chief justice John Marshall became its first president and former president James Madison its first honorary member, the Virginia Historical Society began amassing books, manuscripts, and historical objects to preserve the state's past. After moving its collections throughout the state during the Civil War, the society finally settled into the Lee House—the wartime home of General Robert E. Lee's family—in 1893 before moving to the Center of Virginia History in 1959.
The society showcases the state's heritage through long-term and temporary exhibitions such as The Story of Virginia, an American Experience, which contains artifacts from 16,000 years of Virginian history (from prehistory to the present) displayed in 10,000 square feet of galleries. Outside of its museum walls, Virginia Historical Society enlightens the public with educational programs and resources, publications, and rare nickels that caught Thomas Jefferson with his eyes closed.
The Virginia Center for Architecture resides in a house befitting its name. The museum is located in the Tudor-revival Branch House, an 11-story mansion complete with a chapel-like studio, long gallery, and vast library. Today, this 1919 home houses exhibitions on Virginia's livable communities, the ruins from the 1769 Menokin site, and a permanent exhibit on the Branch home itself and its architect, John Russell Pope, who also designed the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the National Archives Building.
One of the Science Museum of Virginia’s current exhibits includes a few basketball players—just don’t expect LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. These basketball players are two rats, playing a live one-on-one game to demonstrate operant and classical conditioning. Throughout the three-story museum, more hands-on examples of science await at five permanent exhibits. Inspect a rock from the moon, explore a life-size space capsule, and generate energy by pedaling a stationary bike. Kids can even build their own playground with materials such as mats and foam blocks.
Inside the IMAX Dome, a screen 10 times the size of a typical 35 mm screen shows a wide range of educational films. Outside the museum, plants in the BayScapes Garden thrive without pesticide, fertilizer, or the encouragement of a motivational speaker, and an onsite greenhouse offers free planting areas for visitors to contribute greenery and learn about sustainable farming.
The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia tunes brain waves to more artistic frequencies with its exhibitions, artifacts, and art pieces all created by African Americans. Situated in an ornately adorned house built in the early 19th century, the museum features works by accomplished artists, such as the vibrant abstract art of Sam Gilliam, Harlem Renaissance murals by John Biggers, and P.H. Polk's iconic photography, as well as textiles and artifacts from various ethnic groups throughout Africa. Check the museum's calendar to align your schedule with ongoing events and rotating exhibitions.
Established: Before 1950
Staff Size: 2–10 people
Average Duration of Services: 30–60 minutes
Pro Tip: Come ready to have fun.
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Parking: Parking lot
Recommended Age Group: 18 and older