Edgar Allan Poe holds a distinguished reputation in American literature, given his proclivity for dark work, such as “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” But the Poe of legend is often at odds with the real Poe: the student who had to gamble and burn his furniture to make it through college; the career man who traveled extensively to find better opportunities; and the devoted husband who never recovered from the death of his wife. He even enrolled at West Point … though he was thrown out eight months later.
The Poe Museum educates guests on the writer's life, helping them reconcile the reputed Poe with the real Poe. Located within the Old Stone House that lies just blocks from Poe's first Richmond home and his first employer, the Southern Literary Messenger, the museum showcases exhibits and significant artifacts, such as Poe's walking stick, his boyhood bed, and even a lock of his hair. This collection reveals his journey, showing what drove him to become a master writer of short stories, lyric poetry, action-movie screenplays, and, of course, horror stories.
The White House of the Confederacy constituted the social, political, and military headquarters of Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis during the Civil War. Later named a National Historic Landmark, the building still stands today. Daily guided tours lead guests through the grand 19th-century structure, which houses more than half its original wartime furnishings.
The White House is only steps away from The Museum of the Confederacy's Richmond location, where a core exhibit chronicles the Confederacy from its beginnings to General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Opened 25 years after that fateful event, the nonprofit museum displays artifacts from a collection of more than 15,000 items. They include Stonewall Jackson's sword, a letter from Pope Pius IX, and all the pennies Jefferson Davis etched his face onto in his spare time.
Meanwhile, another 400 artifacts adorn the permanent exhibit at the museum's Appomattox location. Here, a dozen audiovisual stations, parole lists, and the uniform coat worn by Lee illustrate the event that brought the Civil War to a close.
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.
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.
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, The Valentine has inspired visitors to explore Virginia's yesteryears for more than a century, employing exhibitions, tours, research, special events, and educational programs. More than 1.7 million household items, industrial artifacts, and pieces of artwork adorn permanent and changing exhibitions to expound on past lifestyles. Guests enjoy entry to the Wickham House, a National Historic Landmark peppered with artifacts from its prominent former inhabitants. The renovated Edward V. Valentine Sculpture Studio details Valentine's artistic maturation and evolution beyond macaroni portraits by displaying his original works and tools. The museum also invites budding scholars to survey the historic Court End neighborhood as they exhaustively research Richmond's 400-year-old history and determine whether the city was settled by aliens. In addition to this, The Valentine offers a myriad of tours, which can be enjoyed by foot, bus, or with a favorite dog.
Founded in 1889, Preservation Virginia is one of the oldest historic-preservation organizations in the country. Its dedicated team has worked on more than 200 historic places, including landscapes, structures, and archaeological sites. The organization provides visitors with a tangible example of life in the past at a number of historic homes from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, including Patrick Henry's and Chief Justice John Marshall's homes. Historic Jamestowne, the site of the first permanent British settlement in North America, recreates the landscape of the first meeting between the explorers and Native Americans. Due to the work of the organization, visitors still gaze upon a yeoman planter's cottage that dates back to 1740. Preservation Virginia also teaches aspiring laymen during conservation workshops, compiles lists of endangered historic sites, and spearheads tobacco-barn-protection efforts.