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.

2018 Events

Jan. 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 and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Animals in Winter.

Jan. 20. Battle of Mackie’s Mill Lecture. 2 p.m. This lecture will commemorate the 237th anniversary of the American Revolution’s Mackie’s Mill engagement, the Jan. 16, 1781, skirmish between local militia and Benedict Arnold’s forces.

February 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 element of our county’s history. Visit our website to learn more: www.historicisleofwight.com/february-is-black-history-month.html.

Feb. 8. 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 and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Bee Mine, Valentine.

March 1-31. Share Your Peanut History. March is National Peanut Month, and to celebrate, we ask that you share your peanut stories with us. The museum is writing a book about Isle of Wight County’s agricultural history, and we need your help documenting not only peanuts but also pork, cotton, wheat, soybeans, corn, poatoes and more. Share your photos, documents, drawings so that we can better document Isle of Wight County’s agricultural story. Email, call or visit to drop off your items.

March 8. 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 and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Johnny Appleseed.

March 18. After Pocahontas: Indian Women in the Colonial South. 1 p.m. For Women’s History Month, this presentation illuminates women whose prominent roles and presence is often hidden. “Indian princesses” were conspicuous in the early years of Virginia and the Lower South through the 1760s. They wielded influential roles in international and native American diplomacy and acted as interpreters of language and culture. So many nameless others were wives and consorts of early settlers in the wild Appalachian frontier, forgotten founders who played key roles in the formation of the American South.  Our presenter Eirlys M. Barker received her Ph.D. from William and Mary, was Department Head of History at Thomas Nelson Community College and taught Women’s History and Colonial History at Old Dominion University.

March 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.

April 7. 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, 301 Jericho Road, Smithfield.

April 8. Korea and the Cold War. 2 p.m. Smithfield resident Al Coke spent 15 months in Korea as the senior aide to LTG James F Hollingsworth. He will provide an overview of the 1950s Korean War and share his experiences about his time there – as well as those of his second cousin who was captured at Chosin and then died in a prisoner of war camp. Veterans are encouraged to attend and share their own experiences.

April. 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 and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Earth Day.

April 28. Mid-Century Potluck: Mayonnaise, Olives and Aspic. 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 this tasty discussion, and scour some of your old cookbooks to chef up a sample of your own to share. We’ll bring the salmon mousse. Also here to help us celebrate will be the Blackwater Regional Library’s Library 2 Go Bookmobile. Visit them for some great vintage cookbooks.

May 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 and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Caterpillars.

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.

May 19. 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.

June 30. 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.

July 7. The Pet Ham’s 116th Birthday. 10:30 a.m.-Noon. The world’s oldest ham turns 116. 116 is the atomic number of livermorium, the number of years that the Hundred Years’ War between France and England actually lasted and the record for number of wins in a single Major League Baseball season achieved by the Chicago Cubs in 1906 and the Seattle Mariners in 2001. More importantly, 116 is a good excuse for cake. Join us in this annual tribute to the birthday boy, and help us launch our annual Pan Ham contest. Also here to help us celebrate will be the Blackwater Regional Library’s Library 2 Go Bookmobile. Visit them outside for some additional hammy activities!

July 21. 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.

Aug. 4. Walking Tour Along Church Street. 11 a.m. Join us as we stroll down Church Street to explore the history of this fascinating area.

Aug. 4. 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, 301 Jericho Road, Smithfield.

Aug. 25. Screwpiles: The Forgotten Lighthouses. 10 a.m. Screwpile lighthouses stand directly on piles screwed into sandy or muddy sea and river bottoms. Many such lighthouses have existed, and still do, in Southeastern Virginia, Northeastern North Carolina and Southern Maryland. Karla Smith, Phyllis Sepidell, John Sheally II and Larry Saint published this book which combines archival plans and photos, original art and photography, stories pulled from lightkeepers’ logs and journals and contemporary interviews with the people still connected to the lights. The authors weave these together to tell the story of how these lights came to be, their role in early American history and navigation and the people who manned them. Books, signed by the authors, will be available for purchase.

Sept. 13. 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 and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Pigs.

Sept. 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.

Sept. 23. Armageddon on our Doorstep: How Warwick County and Isle of Wight County Prevented an Atomic Bomb Attack. 2 p.m. Learn the details of local defenses used to combat the Cold War during the Communist Red Scare of the 1950s when every schoolchild learned to “duck and cover.” Isle of Wight County manned missile batteries at Site N-75L/C – now Nike Park – while Warwick County, our sister just across the James River, was safeguarded by the Camp Patrick Henry (BOMARC) Nike anti-aircraft missile site N-85L/C.

Oct. 8-12. Homeschool Week. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Smithfield and Isle of Wight County’s historic sites welcome homeschoolers of all ages with a selection of fun and engaging activities that highlight the history of Virginia and the area.

Oct. 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 and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Pumpkins.

Oct. 20. Early History and Peoples of Isle of Wight County. 11 a.m. A discussion of Isle of Wight County’s pre-history during Archaeology Month by Old Dominion University’s Dr. Paul R. Green, Associate  Professor, Anthropology.

Nov. 4. Reflecting on Vietnam. 2 p.m. As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, the museum will host speaker Tom Orlowski who will give a brief synopsis of the war and its origins, detail its legacy, discuss some of the misconceptions concerning service in Vietnam. He will share some of his experiences from his 1966 to 1967 tour.

Nov. 8. 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 and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Thanksgiving.

Nov. 17. A Vital Connection: The James River Bridge. 11 a.m. Opened November 17, 1928, the James River Bridge has linked Warwick-Newport News to Isle of Wight County for 88 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. 21. 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.

Dec. 13. 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 and features books, songs and games. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Theme: Jingle Bells.

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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