Frontier Culture Museum

Frontier Culture Museum

Frontier Culture Museum

Volunteer Handbook 2013

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Welcome to the Frontier Culture Museum Volunteer Program! This handbook contains general information which is useful to all Museum volunteers; information pertaining to your specific work assignment will be available from your supervisor after you have completed orientation and are beginning your volunteer work. Please let Museum Operations Manager/Volunteer Coordinator Lydia Volskis know if you have further questions. She can be reached at 540-332-7850 x 165, at by mail at PO Box 810 Staunton, VA 24402 or at her office in the administration building. This handbook is updated periodically as needed.

Table of Contents

  1. Museum Mission and Historyp. 3-5
  2. Museum Tour and Orientation for New Volunteersp. 6
  3. Major Buildings and Facilitiesp. 7

VC - Ticketing, TIC, Film, Collections, Restrooms

Administration – Administration, American Frontier Culture Foundation, Store

Dairy Barn I – Interpretation, Education, Offices, Library, Lecture Hall

Dairy Barn II – Maintenance, Collections, Storage, Caretaker Apartment

Octagonal Barn- Upper and lower levels, restrooms, wooded amphitheater

Cochran Pavilion – Kitchen and handicapped restrooms

Dod Amphitheater

  1. Life at the Museump. 8

Who’s Who – Senior Staff at the Museum


Museum ID


Museum Dress Code

Lost and Found

  1. Safety and Healthp. 11

Fire Extinguishers and Emergency Exits

Injuries on the Job,

Weather Related Closings

  1. Volunteer Job Specificsp. 12

Training and Evaluation

Volunteer Hours Recorded



Job Assignments

Volunteer Apparel and ID

Volunteer Benefits “Perks”

  1. Museum Departments and Volunteer Needsp. 14

Buildings and Grounds



Education and Interpretation



American Frontier Culture Foundation

Historic Buildings, Trades and Restoration

Special Events

Other Volunteer Opportunities

  1. Volunteer Timesheetp. 17
  2. Volunteer Emergency Contact Formp. 18
  3. Volunteer Applicationp. 19

Frontier Culture Museum Mission Statement

The mission of the Frontier Culture Museum is to increase public knowledge of the formation of a distinctive American folk culture from the synthesis of European, African and indigenous peoples. The Museum uses historic structures, artifacts, and living history interpretation to represent how immigrants to America lived in their homelands, crossed the Atlantic, and traveled from coastal ports into the Shenandoah Valley. These travelers built farms along the early Western Frontier where they and their descendants formed a new American culture.

A Brief History of the Frontier Culture Museum

The Frontier Culture Museum is the product of an effort that began in the mid-1970s during the planning of America’s Bicentennial celebration. The idea for the museum was first presented by Mr. Eric Montgomery, then Director of the Ulster-American Folk Park and a member of the Northern Ireland Bicentennial Liaison Committee. He proposed a museum that would be similar to the Ulster-American Folk Park, but of a more multinational character, where Americans of all ages could learn about their Old World ancestors, and their contributions to the creation of the American way of life.

In 1976, Mr. Montgomery and colleagues from Northern Ireland met with a group of leaders in the American museum community at the Smithsonian Institute to discuss his idea. Dr. Henry Glassie, then at the University of Pennsylvania, attended the meeting and was asked to prepare a formal proposal. This proposal, entitled, “A Museum of American Frontier Culture: A Proposal”, was completed and published in 1978. Glassie believed that the culture of the frontier was an important aspect of the American character and identity that had not received sufficient attention by American scholars. He envisioned an outdoor museum where frontier culture would be the central theme, and the unique American identity would be highlighted by material culture and living history demonstrations.

Glassie proposed that the museum be comprised of four farms: one each from the North of Ireland, Germany, England; and the Appalachian region of the United States. He stressed the importance of identifying and acquiring original structures and restoring them to the earliest pre-modern date feasible. He proposed that the buildings be surrounded by farms and fields, and that each seem like a complete, self-sustaining farming operation that offered natural stages for demonstrations of rural life.

The location of the museum was also identified by Glassie as a key factor. He thought it would be, “historically inept”, for it to be located outside Appalachia because, “it was not until the land rose and swelled that westward moving people developed the distinct frontier culture. In this difficult environment people were forced out of accustomed habits into a willingness to engage in cultural trading”. Therefore, the proposed museum could be located anywhere from western Pennsylvania south to northern Alabama; he identified the southwestern counties of Pennsylvania and the Valley of Virginia as the two most promising locations.

The effort to make such a museum a reality became focused in the late 1970s with the creation of a Joint International Committee for a Museum of American Frontier Culture with representatives from the United States, Great Britain and Germany. The effort was greatly advanced when officials of the state of Virginia took positive action to have the museum located there. In 1980, the Virginia General Assembly authorized the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation to work with the Joint International Committee to plan the museum, and offered a 78 acre parcel of state land near Staunton, Virginia, at the intersection of Interstates 64 and 81, as a possible location.

In mid-November 1980, a three day, “Planning Conference for a Museum of American Frontier Culture”, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities was held at Staunton. The conference was attended by 68 official participants and joined by some 35 guests and observers. Over the course of the three days the proposal for the museum was discussed and the site offered by the state of Virginia examined. Guidelines and specific directions were established for an on-going development plan for the project; the site offered by the state of Virginia was tentatively determined to be a viable one; an executive committee was created; funding sources for the project were identified; the creation of a private, non-profit foundation was recommended; and the need for land use and economic impact studies was identified and positive action taken to initiate them.

Over the course of the next few years the key recommendations at the 1980 planning conference were successfully acted upon. In May of 1981 the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation selected the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University to perform land use and economic impacts studies for the proposed museum. The following year, the studies concluded that the project and the Staunton site were economically viable, and presented a number of possible site plans for the museum. During this period the Joint International Committee was at work as well. Appropriate traditional buildings were identified in Germany, Northern Ireland and England, and plans for dismantling and restoration were prepared. Financing of this work was also arranged through private banks.

An important milestone in the creation of the museum was reached in 1982 with the chartering of the American Frontier Foundation, Inc. Established as a nonprofit corporation under Virginia law, the Foundation became the repository of all gifts of money and materials to the proposed museum. By 1984, the Foundation had received $1,000,000 dollars for the project, with over half of that figured being contributed by the local governments of cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, and Augusta County.

The last half of the 1980s saw what had begun as an idea a decade before become a reality. In early 1985, Mr. Walter Heyer was named Executive Director of the Museum of American Culture. That same year, the Governor of Virginia, Charles Robb, transferred the 78 acre parcel at Staunton to the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation to be the site of the museum, and dedicated it in a ceremony attended by 300 people. In 1986, the Virginia General Assembly passed an act creating the Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia as an independent state agency with annual appropriation.

In 1984 and 1985, the Ulster-American Folk Park numbered and dismantled a stone farmstead in County Tyrone and shipped it to Virginia. In 1987, the Governor of Virginia, Gerald Baliles laid the corner stone of the Ulster farmhouse in a ceremony at the museum site. The museum also acquired an American farmstead, located in Botetourt County, Virginia, and began the dismantling and restoration of its structures. Progress on the English and German buildings was proving slower than anticipated. The state of Virginia provided funding for the design and construction of a modern visitor center and administration complex which was completed during 1987 and 1988.

The Frontier Culture Museum officially opened in September 1988, with the visitor center complex and the Ulster and American farms in place. During the museum’s first several years the buildings from Germany and England arrived and were reconstructed on their designated sites. In 1992 the museum acquired, relocated, and restored a unique octagonal barn - located outside of its historic farmsite area - to be used as meeting and special events space. In 1995, an Ulster forge was donated to the museum by the Ulster-American Folk Park and reconstructed by museum staff. A timber-frame German barn was restored and reconstructed by museum staff in 2001, and in 2005 the Bowman House, an early eighteenth century dwelling from nearby Rockingham County Virginia was moved and reconstructed at the Museum.

The Museum employs costumed interpreters at each of its historic farmsites who perform the daily tasks of pre-industrial rural life, and furnishes the historic buildings with reproductions based on historic forms, and has developed educational programs as well as historic agriculture and livestock programs.

Due to a limited amount of indoor exhibit space the museum has often mounted small exhibits which highlight or expand its living history programs. The museum permanent collection has grown to include some 5000 artifacts, many of which relate to its historic buildings. The museum has also built a library collection of some 4000 volumes. The subjects covered by its library collection include history, specifically works relating to the cultures represented at the museum, geography, architecture, costuming, and historic crafts and trades.

Soon after it opened to the public, the leadership of the Frontier Culture Museum began to develop long-range plans for the future. Initially, the Museum’s land holdings were limited to the 78 acre parcel granted to it in 1985; however, over the ensuing years the state of Virginia transferred an additional 218 acres of surrounding land. A portion of this land is designated for the expansion of the Museum’s outdoor exhibits. This expansion is planned to further develop the Museum’s interpretation of early life on the eighteenth century frontier. The Bowman House, the historic eighteenth century German-American farmhouse from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia was donated to the museum and served as the first structure in this expansion. The 1850’s American House has been moved to join the Bowman House in the New World section of the Museum. In 2009 the Shuler Schoolhouse, a mid-nineteenth century schoolhouse also from Rockingham County Virginia was reconstructed adjacent to the Bowman and 1850’s farm sites. The Museum has erected a 1740’s settlers cabin and small farmstead, depicting life on the early frontier, close to the larger American farms, and is in the process of constructing an American Indian site, also located in the New World portion of the Museum. The Old World section of the museum has also undergone a major change with the departure of the 1850’s American farm and the construction – with the help and support of the Nigerian and Nigerian-American Igbo community - of a West African farm where the contributions of Africans and their American descendants to the creation of American culture on the eighteenth century frontier are interpreted.

The Museum’s plan for the future also calls for the design and construction of an exhibit gallery, the focus of which will be the immigrant experience, including a section dealing with the trans-Atlantic voyage from the Old World to the New World. Additionally, the Museum hopes to construct/reconstruct a “crossroads village” depicting life in the mid-eighteenth century. The village will be located in the New World and will consist of craftsmen and trades shops, dwellings, a mill and possible a church and other buildings.

The Frontier Culture Museum utilizes an operating budget of approximately $1.5 million per year, and attracts about 70,000 visitors. The Museum is an educational agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM) and is a Member of both the AAM and the Virginia Association of Museums.

Museum Tour and Orientation for New Volunteers

New volunteers at the Museum should make an appointment to meet with Volunteer Coordinator Lydia Volskis. At this meeting, we will review your volunteer application and discuss the type of volunteer service you might enjoy! Lydia will offer a copy of the volunteer handbook and any other useful materials, and set up a time for new volunteers to have their first experience in the department of choice. It’s important for new volunteers to make time for such a meeting, it helps Museum staff learn more about you than can be conveyed on paper, and it gives you a chance to ask questions and begin familiarizing yourself with the Museum and its people. New volunteers should also plan to take a complimentary tour of the site with a friend or family member before beginning work – have some fun!

As always, Museum volunteer assignments are made with consideration given to the Museum’s mission and needs at the time, and the prospective volunteer’s time and talents. Volunteers are welcomed and much appreciated, and are supervisedin the same manner as staff. Volunteers are asked to follow the same standards of conduct and workplace policies as paid staff.

Major Buildings and Facilities

Visitor Center - The Visitor’s Center, located in the administrative complex of weatherboard buildings, contains the ticketing area, a theater for the Museum orientation film, a small gallery, collections department offices and the Travel Information Center (TIC). The TIC is a collaboration between the Museum and Augusta County. It offers brochures, maps, and tourism and travel information. Only Museum staff are permitted behind the counter at the Visitors Center, and telephones there are for state business only. Please feel free to stop and say hello to staff in the VC, but keep your visits short as it’s a busy place – even in slow visitation times the staff there have other work tasks to complete.

Administration Building - The administration building hosts the Museum’s executive, administrative, marketing and fiscal offices, the agency mail and copy room, and, in a basement suite, the administrative offices of the American Frontier Culture Foundation. The Foundation is a non-profit 501c3 organization whose mission is to support the Museum through fundraising and investment activities.

Museum Store – The Store is operated by the American Frontier Culture Foundation, and contains books, apparel, music, mementos, gift and craft items as well as sodas, snacks, ice cream and famous made-on-site fudge.

Dairy Barn I – The first of two 1940’s era dairy barns originally housing a dairy herd, has been renovated for use by the education and interpretation departments. The Barn features a fudge kitchen, education room, offices, staff lunchroom and locker rooms, library and a lecture hall. The library is available for staff, volunteer and limited public use between the hours of 9 and 5 on weekdays (no holidays or weekends). See Deputy Director Eric Bryan for permission to check out items from the library.

Dairy Barn II – The second dairy barn has been renovated to house maintenance, historic trades, and collections storage, as well as some general storage, the woodshop, offices and a small apartment for the Museum caretaker.

Octagonal Barn – The Octagonal Barn, located outside the historic area adjacent to the Museum’s main parking lot, offers a lower level (A/C and heat)meeting space and upper level (no A/C or heat but rustic interior) meeting space. The Barn is rented for special events and often offers a place for groups of schoolchildren to eat lunch. Public restrooms are adjacent to the Barn; these restrooms are operational from April through November. A small wooded amphitheater is adjacent to the Octagonal Barn, down the slope in a wooded area; it contains a simple raised wood platform stage.

Cochran Pavilion – The pavilion sits on the hill just outside the Visitor’s center breezeway/gate to the historic sites. It is an open-air large picnic and event pavilion with drop-down flap sides, a catering kitchen, handicapped restrooms and storage. It is equipped with ceiling fans and a sound system.