Museums at Old City Cemetery
A quintet of history museums make this Virginia graveyard as much a resting place for funereal history as it is for people.
Planning to travel back to 1899 to attend a funeral? This is the place to get a sense of how one would follow American mourning rituals of the 19th and 20th century.
The Cemetery Center, within the Old City Cemetery, houses the Mourning Museum with permanent exhibits as well as revolving art exhibits, and a small gift shop. Whether it be mourning attire/etiquette, Victorian hair work, or the evolution of funerary practices, this place is full of funereal history. There are signs along the way once you get into the cemetery itself that will guide you to the Center itself. It is right across from the Pest House Medical Museum which recreates a Civil War “House of Pestilence” and is also near the Hearse House, Caretaker’s Museum, and Station Depot Museum.
The Hearse House and Caretaker’s Museum is one in the same, with the permanent display housing a full funeral carriage, tools of the gravestone-making trade and several other implements including a handful of coffisn. The display itself is well kept and the carriage is restored to near mint condition; you can’t go into the building but the entire front side is nothing but windows.
The Station Depot is another stop within the cemetery, offering a glimpse of how railroads affected both the town and how the cemetery utilized the line from 1897-1937. This was the main mode of transportation during the aforementioned years and plaques dot the outside of this building telling the story of this unassuming little building and what it saw during its time in operation. In 1997 the dilapidated little depot got a breath of life when the board saw to restore it back to it’s World-War-I-era self; after three years and a lot of man hours, it re-opened.
The newest addition is a chapel museum that was built to honor the many religious leaders who have been buried in the historic cemetery. This includes an old columbarium, holding urns that haven’t been on display in decades.
Donations for upkeep are accepted and further projects but there is no charge to go visit.
Know Before You Go
Hours are rather odd so you might want to give a call or visit the website before heading over there. (434) 847–1465. Again, there is no fee to tour the grounds or to check out the museums, but of course a donation always helps. There are also a few photography policies that the cemetery has that you might want to look over, those are available on their website as well.
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