A FAVORITE TV FAMILY LIVES AT
THE WALTON'S MOUNTAIN MUSEUM
"You know, Thomas Wolfe couldn't 'go home again' because of the things he'd written. But I can go home, and do, because I've written with affection about the our life together." --Earl Hamner, Jr.
SCHUYLER, VIRGINIA--You can almost hear one of the Walton kids calling, "Good night, John-Boy," from down the hall. This museum is just one of those places that gives you a warm, fuzzy, familial feeling as soon as you step inside.
A visit to the Walton's Mountain Museum is like a trip to the country to see old family friends. You feel as if you've known the Walton family all of your life and you're just now getting to see where they've lived for so long.
The Waltons were everyone's family for more than a decade. Winner of thirteen Emmys and many other awards, the television show portrayed the independence, sturdiness, and closeness of Blue Ridge Mountain people and one particular family.
Families across America came to know and love John-Boy, Mary Ellen, Olivia, John, Grandpa and Grandma Walton, Ike Godsey, and many other characters. Walton watchers followed the family through good times and bad until World War II.
The stories were based on the experiences of the show's creator, Earl Hamner, Jr., who was born in Schuyler on July 10, 1923, the oldest of eight children. A writer by nature, he faithfully recorded his childhood in journals which would become the basis for many of his later works.
After attending college in Virginia, Mr. Hamner began his career writing for radio in Cincinnati and New York, before migrating to Hollywood. There, he developed a successful career in film-, television-, and novel-writing.
His novel Spencer's Mountain, based on his childhood in Schuyler, was turned into a hit movie in 1963. In 1971, his Christmas teleplay, "The Homecoming," led to the creation of "The Waltons," one of the most successful and enduring television shows in history.
It accurately portrayed the Hamner family as industrious, warm, hospitable, and honest. Some years ago, Earl's mother, Mrs. Doris Hamner, said, "We tried to teach the children that when it was a question of right or wrong, there just wasn't a choice--you do what's right."
The interest in the show and family is so great that people still flock to the Schuyler area as a Waltons mecca. With the new museum, they now have an even better reason to head for this town, nestled in the foothills of Nelson County.
The Walton's Mountain Museum was created to support the Schuyler Community Center, a non-profit entity dedicated to providing recreational, cultural, and other services to the people of the Schuyler area. The center and museum have brought the community together in ways rarely seen in today's society.
Schuyler was named in 1897 for its first postmaster Schuyler Walker. The soapstone quarry and plant dominated the economy for many years and in its heyday employed more than 1,500 people. There was also a train station for passengers and shipping finished soapstone.
Many residents lived in "company homes," which can still be seen. Local legend has it that the homes were purchased from Sears, Roebuck & Co. for $400, but some say the houses were individually built. Schuyler also boasted a hospital, which today serves as a residence, and many businesses, including a movie theater. Most of that is gone today, though Schuyler is rebounding with the opening of the museum and the soapstone plant again in operation.
The recently-opened museum was a labor of love for hundreds of Schuyler volunteers. "The people of Schuyler made this happen," says founder Bill Luhrs. It is located in the community center, which was once the school Earl Hamner attended with his seven brothers and sisters.
The Walton's Mountain Museum features professionally-prepared and -presented re-creations of sets from the show, designed by architect Robert Brent Hall, a Schuyler native now based in Charlottesville. John-Boy's room is the first exhibit, found down a long hallway of fascinating Hamner and Walton memorabilia.
The bedroom re-creation includes a rocking chair for reading, an old writing desk, and a typing table, all looking out over Schuyler. Locals say the town outside really hasn't changed much since John-Boy (Earl Hamner) was growing up just down the street (the Walton house still stands).
The next room features a reproduction of Ike Godsey's store, with all sorts of period antiques and pieces. Visitors typically gravitate to Ike's counter, the phone, and the post office boxes. The room also serves as the Museum Store, with local arts and crafts for sale.
The kitchen comes next, with a long wooden table, a big old stove, and imagined smells of country cooking. The warm living room follows, with comfortable chairs and old copies of Grit dating back to the 1920s.
The museum has also opened a room where visitors can watch videotapes of interviews with former cast members and Earl Hamner, Jr., as well as episodes of the show. Who knows, maybe Earl or another Hamner family member will stop by for a visit.
The Walton's Mountain Museum opened briefly last fall for a huge gala attended by former cast members, Earl Hamner and much of his family, and more than 6,000 well-wishers. After being closed for the winter, it is opening again this spring.
Schuyler is located in central Virginia, between Charlottesville and Lynchburg. Nearby attractions include Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, James Monroe's Ash Lawn, Wintergreen Resort, and the Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive.
The museum is situated in the center of Schuyler. From Route 29, take Route 6 east. Go approximately 5 miles and turn right onto Route 800. Follow this country road until it ends in Schuyler and turn right onto Route 617, where the museum is found immediately on the right.
It is open daily from the first Saturday in March through the last Sunday in November (closed Easter, Thanksgiving, and the second Saturday in October). Visiting hours are 10am to 4pm. Fees are $3 for adults and $2 for children, senior citizens, and groups of more than 20.
For more information, contact the Walton's Mountain Museum at P.O. Box 124, Schuyler, VA 22969, 804/831-2000.