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Member Highlight, Westmoreland County Museum

UPDATE: Sadly the Executive Director of the Westmoreland County Museum passed away after our blog post. Brianna was a shining star and we all want to offer her family our prayers during this sad time.




Brianna Morris

Northern Neck Networking is all about promoting our local treasures and businesses, so I have to highlight The Westmoreland County Museum and Executive Director Brianna Morris! The first time I met Brianna, the passion she has for the museum and her work is evident and her positive energy rubs off on everyone. She was gracious enough to host a meetup for us in October 2023 and it was amazing!! So I want to encourage everyone to take some time to visit and support this gem in Montross, Virginia and become a member. I know I will!

Deb Newman



A Little About the Museum



The Westmoreland County Museum was established in 1941.  The museum was built as a replica of Wakefield, the birthplace of George Washington to display the portrait of William Pitt (Lord Chatham) painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1768.  Pitt was an instrumental member of Parliament responsible for the repeal of the Stamp Act.  Major objection to this tax was voiced in Westmoreland County by way of the Leedstown Resolves, a document signed by 115 of Westmoreland County’s well-known residents including the Lee and Washington families. The Pitt painting began Peale’s 60-year career as America’s most famous portrait artist.  This story is being highlighted over the next few years as the nation's 250th Anniversary approaches.  In the original building, there are eighteen other portraits honoring important residents of Westmoreland County throughout its long history.  This building also exhibits Native American artifacts and archeological discoveries.  Within the museum buildings, the staff creates interesting rotating and permanent exhibits to remind visitors of the important role played by our county's citizens in the nation’s history. 



Original Museum



 The Westmoreland County Museum opened in 1941 and became the first museum to open regularly in the Northern Neck. The museum was built as a replica of the commemorative house at George Washington Birthplace National Monument. The museum was built to display the portrait of William Pitt (Lord Chatham), painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1768.

William Pitt was an instrumental member of Parliament, responsible for the repeal of the Stamp Act. Major objection to this tax was voiced in Westmoreland County by way of the Leedstown Resolves, a document signed by 115 of Westmoreland County’s land-owning residents including the Lee, Washington, and Monroe families. The Pitt painting began Charles Peale’s 60-year career as America’s most famous portrait artist. The museum houses eighteen other portraits honoring important residents of Westmoreland County throughout its long history. The museum provides numerous exhibits and programs to remind visitors of the important role played by the county and its people in Virginia’s and the nation’s history.

The Westmoreland County Museum is also the location of the Presidents’ Garden, the first garden designed by Charles Gillette in the Northern Neck and a project of the Garden Club of Virginia, honoring Virginia’s eight U.S. presidents.


Westmoreland County Historic Courthouse



As originally established by the Virginia colony’s House of Burgesses, this area was separated from Northumberland County in 1653 and named Westmoreland County. At the time, Puritans had displaced Governor William Berkeley during the English Civil War. Despite this change in leadership, the General Assembly continued to champion population expansion and land speculation along the Potomac River. Montross was established as the county seat in 1673.


The earliest county courthouse in the area was on Walter Broadhurst’s plantation near Nomini Ferry. The first courthouse at Montross was built in 1679 on the land of John Minor. However, construction was never completed and in 1707 a new Courthouse was built, which stood until 1817. In 1817, the building that is now the Historic Courthouse was built. It was remodeled in 1900 and 1930. The Courthouse was once home to the original portrait of Willliam Pitt (Lord Chatham), now located in the original museum building.


The Historic Courthouse now serves as a visitor center for Westmoreland County and has rotating exhibits on Westmoreland County history. This building also houses the Henry Hungerford Library and Genealogical Research Center. There is also a small gift shop that sells local history books and local postcards and souvenirs.


Wakefield Building



In 2011, the Westmoreland County Museum finalized arrangements for the purchase of the building known as the Wakefield Furniture. This building houses the Westmoreland Mercantile General Store and the Montross Soda ShoppeThis building is at the original location for the County Clerk’s Office from 1800 to 1904. Dr. M. W. Walker operated an office and drugstore in the building from 1904 to 1908, at which time it was converted to the Bank of Montross.


R. Flynn Smallwood purchased the property in 1927 to build a car dealership and garage. The Northern Neck News in 1928 reported that the Hennage Brothers were building a garage at this location “in the former site of the old store.” They noted that the Hennage Brothers were doing the woodwork and the roof, and Hale was doing the brick work. Mr. Smallwood had the second-floor apartments added for his family during the 1930s, and this is the structure that stands today. The Smallwoods’ ran two gasoline pumps and sold Amoco gasoline. The store also sold Firestone tires, Ford automobiles, and other auto related items.


During World War II, the building housed the Selective Service and Rations Boards. Mr. Smallwood sold the building in 1944 to Mr. and Mrs. Littlefield. The Littlefield’s operated it as a drugstore with a bar situated in the rear. The building was purchased by Lester Miller in 1946, then sold to Hugh Sisson. In May 1956, the Northern Neck News reported the grand opening of Wakefield Furniture Company. Mr. Sisson and his wife Gwendolyn operated the business here for over 50 years, until the building was purchased by the Westmoreland County Museum.


Learn More

Westmoreland County Museum also hosts events and programs throughout the year.  Whether it is our free programs or our ticketed Christmas Gala, we invite you to join the fun.  You can sign up for our newsletter for free on our website or by contacting us directly.  If you want to become a museum member, you can receive a 10% discount in our gift shop and a discount on ticketed events.  WCM's membership levels are $30 for an individual or $50 for a family.  Memberships paid by check can be mailed to WCM, PO Box 247, Montross, VA 22520 or dropped off to WCM, 15803 Kings Highway, Montross, VA 22520 during open hours.  (Online memberships are currently on hold but will be available by April 1, 2024 on WCM's website.)  Westmoreland County Museum also accepts artifacts for donations.  You can email the staff with a description and photos or drop in to talk to the staff about your potential donation.  WCM also welcomes volunteers; if you would like more information about how you can join our team, contact the museum for more information.




Westmoreland County Museum

43 Court Square

PO Box 247

Montross, VA 22520

804-493-8440


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