After closing in January for a two-month renovation, Leesburg’s Loudoun Museum is scheduled to reopen while also introducing a new exhibit April 9.
The exhibit, “A Fragile Republic,” covers the first quarter of the 19th century and features several artifacts of local significance from that period.
Loudoun Museum Executive Director Joseph Rizzo said Loudoun County, the commonwealth of Virginia and the then-nascent U.S. as a whole underwent “a lot of social and political changes” in the early 1800s.
That period, which Rizzo referred to as the United States’ “early republic” phase, is less well-known than the periods that would come to be defined by the Revolutionary War and Civil War that bookended it.
“With 1800 you see political parties starting to form, politics becomes much more hostile … in addition to the growth of the country, the industrialization, the internal improvements,” Rizzo told the Times-Mirror.
“People were trying to figure out what the country was actually going to be,” he said.
Loudoun’s burgeoning identity as a thriving agricultural hub — particularly with the production of grain — was a major development during the early 19th century.
To illustrate that period in Loudoun’s history, the exhibit includes an original lock and key on loan from the historic Aldie Mill, as well as a ledger book from the mill’s heyday.
The book’s records feature a page filled with names of people who worked for President James Monroe, a contemporary portrait of whom is also included in the exhibit, which is on loan from Leesburg author and history enthusiast Sharon Virts.
Also on display from the museum’s own collection is a hand-painted vase commemorating General Marquis de Lafayette’s 1825 visit to Leesburg, which Rizzo said was “a huge moment in Leesburg and Loudoun County.”
Most of the new exhibit is contained in the museum’s northmost room, formerly a children’s play area dubbed the “Discovery Room,” which also represents the bulk of the museum’s recent renovations.
The building’s formerly carpeted areas have been refashioned with hardwood flooring, including the side exhibit room and the main hallway — the latter of which still houses the museum’s “Vintage Pursuits” wine history exhibit.
Renovating the Discovery Room proved slightly more daunting than the rest of the museum, as it showed the most signs of wear and tear, accumulated over the building’s roughly 180-year history.
Installing hardwood floors required a complete re-leveling of the concrete that lay beneath the carpet, which had suffered major fissures.
“It was a task,” said Andrea Ekholm, the museum’s visitor experience manager. “That’s the fun of historic buildings; you never know what you’re going to find when you tear down a wall or you pull up the floors.”
Stripping the north-facing wall resulted in much of the building’s original brick being exposed, which Ekholm said serves beyond mere visual appeal.
“It’s worthwhile to show the bones of the building and treat it like an artifact itself,” she said.
Other changes to the building include newly-installed LED lights and ultraviolet light filters on the windows in order to protect light-sensitive objects such as the Aldie Mill ledger.
The side room now also features a display case in which local organizations and students can display objects or information relevant to the themes currently displayed in the museum.
“Whatever people are interested in thematically, [it will] give them the space … to show off and maybe advertise for things they’re doing,” Ekholm said.
Admission to the Loudoun Museum is free, with open hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday to Sunday.
More information is available at loudounmuseum.org.