Isle of Wight County Museum

 

The Isle of Wight County Museum, founded in 1976, interprets local history. The museum’s exhibits include prehistoric fossils, a turn-of-the-century country store, agricultural displays and perhaps the museum’s most notable artifact: the world’s oldest, edible cured ham.

The World’s Oldest Ham
P.D. Gwaltney Jr.’s famous pet ham currently resides at the Isle of Wight County Museum. In 1902, a cured ham was overlooked, and for 20 years, the ham hung from a rafter in a packing house. By 1924, the pet ham was kept in an iron safe which was opened daily for guests to view. Advertised as the world’s oldest Smithfield ham, Gwaltney fashioned a brass collar for the ham and took it to shows and expos to exhibit the preservative powers of his smoking method. The ham was featured in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” in 1929, 1932 and 2003.

Website and 24/7 HAM CAM.

The museum is on Facebook and Instagram. Follow the ham on Twitter.

2019 Events

Jan. 10. Tell Me a Story. 10 a.m. This program, geared for children ages 3 to 5, introduces youngsters to the symbols of Isle of Wight County and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Pigs.

Jan. 27. In Search of the Lost Colony. 2 p.m. Nicholas Luccketti, principal investigator and archaeologist of the James River Institute for Archaeology and first president of research for the First Colony Foundation, offers tantalizing clues recently unearthed as to the whereabouts of one of history’s long-standing mysteries – the possible relocation of the Roanoke settlers of the 1585 Lost Colony to a site in Eastern North Carolina called “Site X.”

Feb. 1-28. Share Your Stories with Us: African-American History Month. February is a month to learn, honor and celebrate the achievements of black men and women throughout history. In Isle of Wight County, individuals have made their mark in industry, agriculture, public service, education, sports and more. This month, share your stories with us. Email, call or visit to drop off photos, memories and documents to help the museum share this important part of our county’s history.

Feb. 2. Battle of Smithfield Driving Tour. 1 p.m. 2018 marks the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Smithfield. Meet your guide at the museum for a brief overview of this Civil War battle. Afterwards, program participants will self-drive to several sites in Isle of Wight County to note the locations of significant events from January 30 to February 2, 1864. Reservations are required.

Feb. 14. Tell Me a Story. 10 a.m. This program, geared for children ages 3 to 5, introduces youngsters to the symbols of Isle of Wight County and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Soybeans.

March 1. National Pig Day. 12:30 p.m. Today is National Pig Day. Join us for a lunch-and-learn session to honor one of mankind’s most intellectual, domesticated animals. We will discuss the phrase everything but the squeal and conclude our discussion with a tasty themed treat. Also here to help us celebrate will be the Blackwater Regional Library.

March 14. Tell Me a Story. 10 a.m. This program, geared for children ages 3 to 5, introduces youngsters to the symbols of Isle of Wight County and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Chickens.

March 14. Pi Day. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Pi Day is celebrated each year on March 14 to allow math fans to recite the infinite digits of the Greek letter π, eat pie and work on fun math problems. Visit the museum and wow our math whiz volunteer Ira Abbott with your recitation before accepting his math challenges which relate to real calculations behind the launch of Nike-Ajax missiles. Ira has math lessons, history lessons and pie (of course) for all.

March 24. Phillip Levy & Co. and The Granby Phonograph. 2 p.m. Learn the story of Phillip and Harry Levy, early Virginia merchants who founded a well-known 20th century furniture retail empire. Upon success in Norfolk with their first store, the brothers opened branches in other Southern cities. Author Christopher J. Stoessner, author of Norfolk’s Greatest Home Furnishers: The Story of Phillip Levy & Co. and the Granby Phonograph, will share this almost forgotten tale of Virginia’s business history while cranking up the ol’ Victrola to spin some 78 platters from the teens’ hit parade.

March 30. Reflecting on Vietnam. 11 a.m. As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, the museum will host Smithfield resident Lt. Col. Herb De Groft. He served from 1966 to 1967 in Quang Ngai Province on Advisory Team 2 supporting the 2nd ARVN Division with a Marine Air & Naval Gunfire Liaison Company Team to provide coordinated Combat Air Support and Naval Gunfire Surface Fire Support on preplanned targets, targets of opportunity and defensive fires for Popular Force and Regional Force outposts. De Groft will share his war experiences, detail the war’s legacy and discuss some of the misconceptions concerning service in Vietnam. Veterans are encouraged to join us and share some of their Vietnam memories. The museum is a United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration Partner and will offer official lapel pins to Vietnam veterans at this event.

March 30. Walking Tour of Windsor Castle. 2 p.m. From the site’s pre-colonial existence to the present day, Windsor Castle tells the fascinating history of the development of Smithfield. Join us for this free walking tour through history. Meet on the grounds near the manor house.

April 11. Tell Me a Story. 10 a.m. This program, geared for children ages 3 to 5, introduces youngsters to the symbols of Isle of Wight County and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Bunnies.

April 27. Hampton Roads Murder & Mayhem. 11 a.m. Hear some of Hampton Roads’ dark and nefarious history as Nancy E. Sheppard, author of Hampton Roads Murder & Mayhem, shares intriguing stories of riots, cannibalism, murder and witchcraft. Alfred Hitchcock would have found inspiration with some of these tales!

May 4. Don’t Be Camera Shy: Share Your Photos With Us. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The museum wants to scan your photographs. Dig through your shoeboxes and photo albums to help us find photos of Isle of Wight County. What interests us? Everything…especially photos of landmarks, people, industry, farming, crops, animals and buildings. Visit us today so that we can scan your images to better document Isle of Wight County’s history.

May 4. Pilates with the World’s Oldest Peanut. 4 p.m. Pilates Day is an annual, international event celebrated each year on the first Saturday of May. The World’s Oldest Peanut, 1890, will, with the help of Pilates instructor and museum director Jennifer England, host a class designed to help tighten up your core. Bring a mat, towel or blanket for this (pun-filled) session.

May 9. Tell Me a Story. 10 a.m. This program, geared for children ages 3 to 5, introduces youngsters to the symbols of Isle of Wight County and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Corn.

May 11. In Recognition of Josiah Parker. 11 a.m. Born today in 1751, Josiah Parker was an Isle of Wight County resident, Revolutionary War officer, naval officer and congressman. This lecture will highlight his life and career.

May 11. The Importance of 1619: Isle of Wight County’s Quadricentennial. 1 p.m. 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of events in Virginia which underscored the beginnings of America’s government, traditions and diversity. Learn of Isle of Wight County’s 1619 events at this lecture as the Commonwealth of Virginia commemorates the history of 1619.

May 16. Drawing Day. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Whatever your medium, Drawing Day is the day dedicated to the artist inside all of us. Pack your pencil, charcoals or crayons for your visit to the museum today to sketch something on display, and share your creations with us on social media. Free admission for all artistes – professional, aspiring or beginners.

June 1. A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats. 11 a.m. The Coast Guard Auxiliary was established in 1939 as the uniformed auxiliary service to the U.S. Coast Guard. They perform search and rescue, inspect vessels, promote boating safety and respond during disasters. Learn the history of this service and the history of Smithfield’s Unit F-59 during this informative lecture by Al Coke, Former F-59 Flotilla Commander.

June 1. Walking Tour Along Church Street. 1 p.m. Join us as we stroll down Church Street to explore the history of this fascinating area. Tour begins and ends at the museum.

June 22. Battle of Smithfield Walking Tour. 2 p.m. Meet a Union soldier at the museum for a lecture and a walk down Church Street as he details his experiences in this battle.

July 13. The Pet Ham’s 117th Birthday. 10:30-Noon. The world’s oldest ham turns 117. 117 is the atomic number of Tennessine, the smallest possible length of the longest side of a Heronian tetrahedron and the fire emergency telephone number in Portugal. More importantly, 117 is a good excuse for cake. Join us in this annual tribute to the birthday boy, and help us launch our annual Pan Ham photo contest. Also here to help us celebrate will be the Blackwater Regional Library.

July 27. 5th Virginia Battalion: Guardians of the James River. 10 a.m. The 5th Virginia Battalion manned heavy guns in earthen emplacements on Mulberry Island and Fort Huger from mid-June 1861 to mid-May 1862 to check the James River Blockading Squadron from reaching Deep Water Shoals on the water course to Richmond. This lecture will highlight the details of their role during the Civil War.

Aug. 3. Walking Tour of Windsor Castle. 11 a.m. From the site’s pre-colonial existence to the present day, Windsor Castle tells the fascinating history of the development of Smithfield. Join us for this free walking tour through history. Meet on the grounds near the manor house.

Aug. 24. Battle of Smithfield Walking Tour. 2 p.m. Meet a Union soldier at the museum for a lecture and a walk down Church Street as he details his experiences in this battle.

Sept. 12. Tell Me a Story. 10 a.m. This program, geared for children ages 3 to 5, introduces youngsters to the symbols of Isle of Wight County and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Squirrels.

Sept. 14. In Reserve: The Navy in Isle of Wight County. 11 a.m. Join us for a lecture on the history of the James River Reserve Fleet, also referred to as the Ghost Fleet. This is the story of the anchorage of the National Defense Reserve Fleet located on the James River at Fort Eustis. It is the oldest of the original eight fleet sites and currently one of three still in operation.

Sept. 28. Watch It Wiggle: Jell-O and Other Mid-Century Culinary Essentials. 11 a.m.  In the 1950s and 1960s, frozen meals and pre-packaged foods made dinner easier and faster for the home cook, and entertaining frequently featured appetizers with ingredients such as gelatin, canned fruit and olives. Join us for this fun lecture – complete with a few tasty nibbles inspired by our discussion. Also here to help us celebrate will be the Blackwater Regional Library. Visit them for some great vintage cookbooks.

Oct. 10. Tell Me a Story. 10 a.m. This program, geared for children ages 3 to 5, introduces youngsters to the symbols of Isle of Wight County and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Pumpkins.

Oct. 20. End of the Line: Local Rail Disasters and Their Impact. 2 p.m. The local area has experienced several notable rail incidents – such as the recent coal train wreck in Suffolk and the 1986 Great Dismal Swamp passenger train derailment. In days gone by, speed and missed signals were frequent reasons for plunging off trestles, fiery catastrophes and deadly collisions. Today, a new type of wreck regularly makes headlines – the increasing occurrence of accidents by trains hauling flammable liquids. Did you ever wonder what happens after such an incident – when local emergency crews are summoned to deal with the situation – before National Transportation Safety officials arrive on the scene? Learn how your local First Responders deal with critical situations following derailments involving casualties, spillage and cleanup.

Oct. 26. Six Degrees of Separation: Smithfield and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. 11 a.m. Six degrees of separation is the idea that all things are six or fewer steps away from each other. Author and writer Bill Camp of Suffolk will draw those lines between Smithfield and Mary Shelley’s famed Modern Prometheus in this literary, cinematic and historical presentation. Costumes are optional, but admission for monsters (green or adorable) is free. Also here to help us celebrate will be the Blackwater Regional Library.

Nov. 10. District Senior Advisor: Service in Vietnam and Beyond. 2 p.m. As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, the museum will host Smithfield resident Al Coke who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 and from 1969 to 1970. After completing training with the District Senior Advisor’s Program, he and other graduates discovered that this program trimmed assimilation time from their service in Vietnam. Training in language, weapons and State Department fundamentals were essential at the beginnings of the Pacification Program which aimed at turning over the war to the Vietnamese. Veterans are encouraged to join us and share some of their Vietnam memories. The museum is a United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration Partner and will offer official lapel pins to Vietnam veterans at this event.

Nov. 14. Tell Me a Story. 10 a.m. This program, geared for children ages 3 to 5, introduces youngsters to the symbols of Isle of Wight County and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Thanksgiving.

Nov. 17. A Vital Connection: The James River Bridge. 2 p.m. Opened November 17, 1928, the James River Bridge has linked Warwick-Newport News to Isle of Wight County for 91 years. This look-back examines life before the bridge, when colonial ferries and steamers served this purpose. The historical journey continues with dedication of the original crossing and construction of the present one.

Nov. 22. Happy Birthday, Benjamin Huger! 12:30 p.m. Join us for this lecture about the life of Benjamin Huger, the career U.S. Army ordnance officer who fought with distinction during the Mexican-American War and served as a Confederate general during the Civil War. Isle of Wight County’s Fort Huger is named for him. Also here to help us celebrate will be the Blackwater Regional Library.

Dec. 6. An Evening with St. Nick. 6-8 p.m. Visit the jolly ol’ elf and enjoy an evening of holiday refreshments, crafts and a special reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. Perfect for families. Make your visit with St. Nick a little more special. Bring a wrapped gift for St. Nick to give to your child. Pre-registration will give you the opportunity to provide some information about your child so St. Nick can talk with him or her! Call the head elf for your appointment: 757-357-0115.

Dec. 12. Tell Me a Story. 10 a.m. This program, geared for children ages 3 to 5, introduces youngsters to the symbols of Isle of Wight County and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Gingerbread.

NOTE: All events are subject to cancellation as well as date, time and admission changes.

Location & Hours
103 Main Street
Smithfield, VA 23430
Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday – Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday

Closed New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and staff in-service day
(757) 356-1223
$2 admission for adults
Group tours and programming available. To book: (757) 357-0115.

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