Three hundred and fifty years ago, explorers Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam set out from what is now Petersburg on a quest to find a land route to the Pacific Ocean. Their journal records visits to this region, making them some of the earliest — and perhaps the first — European explorers to reach southwest Virginia. This summer, history museums across the region are recreating that spirit of exploration with a scavenger hunt of historic proportions.
The Batts and Fallam Expedition of 1671 was funded by Abraham Wood, who hoped the expedition would discover a route to the “South Sea” just beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. The explorers and their Native American guide headed west, but their exact route is debated by historians today. In September, the explorers noted in their journal, “we came to a very steep descent, at the foot whereof stood the Totera Town in a very rich swamp between a branch and the main River of Roanoke circled about with mountains… Here we were exceedingly civilly entertain’d. Saturday night, Sunday and Monday we staid at the Toteras.” The location of Totera Town, home of the Tutelo tribe, remains a mystery, but archaeological evidence suggests it may have been in modern Salem. While the group didn’t find a route to the Pacific, they are credited with being the first Europeans to see the New River.
Each museum tells its own unique story, and each site has selected a special scavenger hunt challenge question that adds to the fun. Visitors are encouraged to pick up a History Passport at any participating museum or download a copy at the History Hunt SW VA Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HistoryHuntSWVA). The History Passport includes all of the scavenger hunt questions, plus information about each participating museum.
The majority of these museums offer free admission, or free admission for children participating in this passport program. Hours also vary: call ahead or check museum websites for the days of the week and hours each is open. Families and visitors of all ages are welcome and encouraged to join in the exploration. Visitors who attend five or more museums between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and find the answers to the scavenger hunt challenge questions at those sites, will be entered in a prize drawing. Each participating museum is providing one of the prizes.
The sixteen participating history museums stretch from Bedford to Wytheville, offering much to explore:
- Bedford: Bedford Museum & Genealogical Library (http://www.bedfordvamuseum.org/), and National D-Day Memorial (https://www.dday.org/).
- Fincastle: Botetourt County Historical Society & Museum (https://bothistsoc.wordpress.com/).
- Roanoke Valley: O. Winston Link & History Museum of Western Virginia (https://roanokehistory.org/), Salem Museum (https://salemmuseum.org/), and Virginia Museum of Transportation (http://www.vmt.org/).
- New River Valley: Alexander Black House & Cultural Center and St. Luke & Odd Fellows Hall (https://www.blacksburgmuseum.org/), Glencoe Mansion Museum & Gallery (https://glencoemuseum.org/), Historic Smithfield (https://www.historicsmithfield.org/), Montgomery Museum of Art & History (montgomerymuseum.org), Ratcliffe Museum of Transportation (https://www.theratcliffemuseum.com/, and Wilderness Road Regional Museum (https://wildernessroadregionalmuseum.com/) .
- Wytheville: Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum (http://www.edithbollingwilson.org/), Haller-Gibboney Rock House Museum and Thomas J. Boyd Museum (https://www.wytheville.org/museums/museums.php).