The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation and the Old Court House Civil War Museum announced an agreement whereby the SVBF will assume operation, administration, and management of the museum, which is located on the walking mall in the heart of downtown Winchester.
The museum will transfer its collection and other property to the SVBF, and the SVBF will operate the facility and continue to exhibit core pieces of the current museum collection, including the Ridgeway Civil War Collection – one of the finest Civil War artifact collections in the nation.
In addition, Harry and Trish Ridgeway, owners of the Ridgeway Collection, are entering into a co-owner trust agreement to permit the transfer of an ownership interest of the Ridgeway Civil War Collection to the SVBF.
“The Old Court House Civil War Museum and the Ridgeway Collection are unbelievable resources,” said Keven Walker, CEO of the Battlefields Foundation. “We are humbled by the responsibility and honored by the prospect of being part of their futures.”
The Old Court House was built in 1840. During the Civil War, as the City of Winchester changed hands over 70 times, the building served as a hospital and prison, and both Union and Confederate soldiers left graffiti on the court house walls. In 2003 the building was extensively renovated and became the Old Court House Civil War Museum.
Harry and Trish Ridgeway’s remarkable collection of Civil War artifacts has always been the heart of the museum’s exhibits, and keeping the two together was critical. “Trish and I wanted to find a long-term guardian for the collection who would appreciate the collection’s connection to the Valley,” said Harry Ridgeway. “It was an added bonus that the foundation would be able to keep the majority of the collection in the Old Court House Civil War Museum. We have had many great conversations with board members and staff of the foundation about plans to update exhibits and displays. Long after we are gone, people will be able to understand and appreciate the impact of the Civil War on the Valley thanks to the efforts of the Battlefield Foundation.”
The SVBF’s still-developing plans for the museum include expanding the interpretive displays, content, tools, and media, updating and complementing the existing exhibits – and building on the museum’s hard-earned success since it first opened in 2003.
“We began working on the idea of a Civil War Museum in the Frederick County Court House many years ago,” Harry Ridgeway added. “Thanks to the excellent work of many volunteers and the wonderful restoration of the building by Frederick County, we were able to open the museum in 2003. It is difficult to operate a year-round museum operation with a small private board. We owe thanks to the many people who worked with us to keep it going. With the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation operating the museum, we look forward to a reinvigorated operation and plan to assist in whatever way we can.”
The Old Court House Museum will become part of a network of Civil War sites that the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation operates in Winchester-Frederick County, which includes the Third Winchester Battlefield Park, the Third Winchester Visitor Center, and Star Fort. The SVBF also has a Civil War Orientation Center housed in the Winchester-Frederick County Visitor Center – one of six orientation centers and kiosks that the SVBF has developed in the 8-county Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District.
“Adding the Court House Museum and the Ridgeway Collection to the other resources we manage is an amazing opportunity,” said Walker. “It’s going to be exciting to see what we can accomplish in the coming years.”