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New exhibits at two Northern Neck museums bring steamboats and menhaden rigs to life
A wife and her daughter await the arrival of a steamboat at a re-created wharf.
PHOTOS BY ROB HEDELT/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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By Rob Hedelt
ONE was a massive, steam-
The other was, and still is, a cavernous fishing boat designed for one thing: landing and transporting whole schools of menhaden, a fish used for everything from animal feed to cooking oil.
The two fleets, the great steamboats and the hardworking menhaden rigs, are featured in new or updated exhibits at two Northern Neck museums that do an inspired job of interpreting the commerce and history of the Chesapeake Bay region.
While the exhibits at the Irvington Steamboat Era Museum and Reedville Fishermen's Museum tell very different stories, there's actually some crossover
Terri Thaxton, director of the museum in Irvington, about 90 miles from Fredericksburg in Lancaster County, said exhibits there have been tweaked to improve the visitor experience and make self-guided tours possible.
To start with, she said, there's a large, easy-to-follow timeline that demonstrates how the steamboat's arrival in the late 1800s affected life in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, becoming the source of materials and the easiest way to move about the region.
"We have also mounted a large map that shows all the different stops the steamboats made in the region," said Thaxton. "From Fredericksburg to Baltimore, you can see the spots where commerce was transacted."
The displays of steamboat-era life in the museum, which hopes to one day add space for a steamboat pilot house it possesses, include a re-created country store, a tomato cannery, a steamboat wharf and a room where various parts of a steamboat are detailed.
There, a life-size crewman shovels coal into a boiler. A galley and formal dining-room seating are re-created, across from a large, wall-mounted model of a steamboat that helps visitors explore spaces ranging from a large saloon to cattle pens below.
The Steamboat Era Museum at 156 King Carter Dr.
For more info, call 804/438-6888 or visit steam boatera museum.org.The Reedville Fishermen's Museum at 504 Main St. in Reedville is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more info, call 804/453-6529 or go online to rfmuse um.org.