This museum feels like a hidden historical gem. You’d never know it by looking at it, but the United States’ “first female president” was born in this shabby apartment atop a commercial building.
Some have dubbed First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson, the country’s “first female president” because she oversaw her husband’s affairs while he recovered from a stroke. She’s been accused of overstepping her boundaries and blocking cabinet members from corresponding with the president while he was ill.
This museum tells the story of the controversial first lady, who was born to a prominent family and grew up in this humble apartment. Here, you can learn about her early life and see her journey from Wytheville to the White House and abroad. The museum boasts various historical artifacts relating to Bolling Wilson. And, as of October 2020, there are two exhibitions on display: one focusing on Bolling Wilson’s contributions during World War I and the other about the Girl Scouts. (Bolling Wilson was the first honorary president of the Girl Scouts.)
The Bolling family originally hailed from Bedford County, Virginia. Before the Civil War they lived and operated a plantation where enslaved people tended the grounds. After the war ended and the enslaved people were emancipated, the family lost their plantation and moved to this apartment in Wytheville.
The building itself was constructed in the 1840s and has a lot of the original antebellum features that are hard to come by. It has always housed commercial storefronts on the first level. The second-level apartment has changed over time. It has served stints as a confederate hospital, an apartment, additional seating and catering kitchen for Durham’s restaurant, and a ballet studio among other things.
Know Before You Go
Admission to the museum is free. There is a $5 fee to tour the upstairs Bolling Home. Its hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The museum is closed on all major holidays. The museum is handicap accessible but the upstairs Bolling home is not.
Guided group tours are $5 per person and $3 for students under the age of 18. Groups of 12 or more can book a living history performance. Call the museum at 276-223-3484 to discuss lunch options.
You'll find the museum downtown, across from the Bolling Wilson Hotel. There is free three-hour parking outside the hotel, as well as handicapped parking.