Weems Botts Museum
3944 Cameron Street, Dumfries, VA, USA
historicdumfries.com/weemsbo… - (703) 221-2218
Weems Botts Museum Dumfries Reviews
History and Mystery at the Weems-Botts Museum Sep 16, 2012
The Weems-Botts House. This Northern Virginia historic house museum has a catchy name, doesn't it? It makes one want to know the story. Yet, we have driven by it on US Highway 1 countless times over the years without stopping. This weekend, driving though Dumfries, Virginia, we decided to stop and were glad we did!
Today, Dumfries, Virginia is, to be frank, a nondescript place where US Highway 1 splits into northbound and southbound lanes with the town lying in between. But in the 18th century it was an important Colonial port. The Colonial town was larger than the modern town and little remains of it. The Weems-Botts Museum keeps some of that history alive.
We arrived just as a tour was beginning and joined it. The docent was very thorough as she spun the story first of Colonial Dumfries, the oldest chartered town in Virginia. The town was then the largest city in Virginia, larger than Williamsburg. Its success came from its port, exporting tobacco and timber and importing all sort of goods from England. But this was also its downfall, as the land, clear-cut for timber and exhausted from tobacco production, began to silt up the port until ships could no longer dock there. (I had not realized it but the present northbound lanes of US 1 actually follow the trace of the former harbor, now dry land.) The town collapsed and only three structures remain today from the 18th century. The Weems-Botts House, or a portion of it is one of those.
The "house" was initially a one-room one and one-half story office for the Vestry of Dumfries Church. The Vestrymen met in the lower room to handle the business of the parish (which in those days coincided with the county). The upper garret was used to house the poor of the parish. Enter Parson Weems in 1798 who bought the building to use as a bookstore to sell uplifting books. Among those was his biography of George Washington in which he introduced the famous story of the cherry tree. (Parson Weems was the Rector of Pohick Church in Fairfax County and an acquaintance of George Washington. See my Pohick Church review.)
Weems sold the building, still a single room, to Benjamin Botts in 1802. Botts was a famous attorney who defended Aaron Burr in his trial for treason and used the building as a branch law office. Dumfries was in decline and the house passed through several owners In the early 19th century. During this time, rooms were added to make it a true dwelling. Dumfries gained some prominence in the early Civil War period when Confederate troops camped on the Weems-Botts House grounds. It is estimated that some 9,000 Civil War soldiers are buried in what is now Merchant Park. No one knows for certain, as the graves were unmarked and following the Civil war Dumfries returned to obscurity. (Residents frequently find relics that they bring to the museum.) The house became a museum and historic property in 1975 when it was saved from near collapse and demolition.
The tour was thorough and excellent. What a surprising find! Rooms are interpreted according to eras. The main Vestry Room has a table and facsimiles of Colonial documents and ledgers and "tobacco scrip" money. The garret as it might have been used during the Civil War. The added parlor as it appeared in the 1880s when the house was owned by the Merchant family.
We learned that a team of university students had spent the previous evening investigating paranormal activity in the house. (What stories the ghosts on this property could tell!)
Admission and tour is $4. Interior photography is permitted.
Part of the Daytripping around Virginia travel blog
Part of the list Historic Houses
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