Governor James Lawson Kemper, born in 1823 near James City (Leon), Virginia, in Madison County, was a member of a family that had settled in the region in the early 1700s. Raised in Madison County, Kemper received a classical education at Locust Dale Academy before pursuing a career as a lawyer. As one of Central Virginia’s most prominent attorneys and politicians, he moved to this house, now known as the Kemper Residence, with his family in 1865. James Lawson Kemper served his country in many ways. He represented Madison County in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1853 to 1863, serving as Speaker for the final term. Kemper fought in the Mexican War, held the rank of major general in the Confederate Army, and was badly wounded in Pickett’s Charge at the battle of Gettysburg. Kemper capped a distinguished career by serving as the first southern-born post-Reconstruction governor of Virginia from 1874 to 1878.
In honor of Governor Kemper and his native county, this imposing Greek Revival dwelling has been restored and furnished with period furniture and exhibits. This was accomplished as a joint effort by the Madison County Historical Society and other community organizations, prominent among them the Sons of Confederate Veterans, The Madison Garden Club, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and by families and individuals.
In 2017, after a year of construction and restoration, the Historical Society’s museum moved to the basement of the Kemper Residence. The museum houses the Strode Collection of Native American artifacts, a unique assembly of arrowheads, pottery shards, etc., collected solely from Madison County, a permanent exhibit of the ‘Only Train to Run Thru Madison County’ as well as a tribute to the citizens who lived in our mountains before the Shenandoah Park. There are also a number of changing exhibits.
Some of the Gift Shop offerings include books and pamphlets on Madison, its history, houses and families, our special blend of Kemper Tea, and greeting cards by local artists.
The Museum closes before Christmas and reopens on the first of March.
The Kemper Residence is also available to the public for special occasions, receptions, and meetings. If you are interested in renting the Kemper Residence for a special event, call 540-395-5119. Leave a message if there is no answer. Details can also be found in the Kemper Use Agreement.
MOUNTAIN MUSEUM AT CRIGLERSVILLE
1128 Old Blue Ridge Turnpike
The Mountain Museum is housed in a building constructed in 1934 as the Home Economics Cottage for Criglersville High School. After the high school burned in 1946, home economics classes moved to Madison High School. The building then served as a residence for teachers and coaches for a few years and was later used as additional space for Criglersville Elementary School. Following the closing of CES in 2003, the building was unoccupied until 2019 when the Madison County Historical Society signed a lease with Madison County to use the building as a museum. The goal of the Mountain Museum at Criglersville is to recognize the sacrifices of families removed from their mountain homes to facilitate the establishment of Shenandoah National Park. The museum supplements the memorial chimney and interpretative kiosks erected as part of the Blue Ridge Heritage Project. The museum houses photographs, artifacts, and genealogical information about the displaced families. Major wall space is devoted to the 1932 US Geological Survey Map that was produced to show the proposed area of SNP. It identifies each tract with owner names and tract numbers keyed to records in the Madison County Clerk’s Office. A corner room in the building houses pictures and objects devoted to keeping alive memories of Criglersville schools and the village of Criglersville. At the Museum’s formal dedication on June 28, 2021, the ribbon was cut by 99-year-old Essie Nicholson who was displaced from her family home when she was a teenager.
GRAVES MILL PARK
52 Bluff Mountain Road
The Graves Mill Park was established by Douglas Graves to honor folks who lived and worked in Graves Mill over the years. It is open year-round for self-guided tours. The Graves Mill area was settled by Thomas Graves who received a land grant of 106 acres in 1768. Over the years, some members of the family moved to Syria. One of these families established Graves Mountain Lodge. In 2022, Doug Graves sold his farm and deeded the park to the Madison County Historical Society, which will maintain it for visitors. The Park features a monument listing names of people born or raised in Graves Mill and a small statue of a Confederate soldier that includes information about men from Graves Mill who served during the Civil War. Doug Graves also built a replica of the original Post Office with mail slots along with an oil lamp, broom, and duster. The Post Office was established in 1828 as GRAVES, changed to GRAVES’ MILL in 1841 and then to GRAVES MILL in 1894. The first Postmaster was Asam Graves; Thomas Graves became Postmaster in 1841. The office suffered catastrophic damage during the Flood of June 1995. One of the neatest stories is that the flood carried the whole building, including the safe, downstream. The safe was later found with everything inside intact. The Post Office was suspended after the flood and not reopened until December 1995 in the nearby Graves Chapel. Mail service moved to Wolftown in 2001 when Postmaster Ruth Lillard retired. The office officially closed in 2010.
OVERVIEW: The Society leases the Arcade, a small brick two-story building located in the heart of downtown Madison at 124 North Main Street. The upper level is used for storing artifacts that record the history of and life in Madison County. Here these artifacts are received, documented, and prepared for display or storage. There is a workroom for preparing exhibits and constructing archival containers for the stored artifacts.
The ground floor, which housed the Society museum for many years, is now used by several organizations, including the Society Board, as a meeting place.
BUILDING HISTORY: In the last decade of the 18th century, a frame storehouse was located on the site of the Arcade. In 1820, a license was granted for a tavern on that lot, and the present brick building may date from that time or somewhat later. By the mid-19th century, to accommodate its expansion as an inn, a frame extension was added to the south side of the building, with a porch and balcony facing Main Street. The brick arcade, a rarity in early commercial structures, served as the entrance to the rear of the inn. Rooms, dining, and dancing were available, and by the 1880s, the inn was known as Madison House. In the first decade of the 20th century, Madison House ceased to function as an inn, and in 1919, a fire that began in the post office south of it destroyed the frame part of the building and gutted the Arcade but was prevented from spreading to the frame buildings to the north by its brick walls. The brick building was restored, and a commercial cinder block addition was constructed. During this period, the original entrance door on the south side of the building was closed, doors (at one time there were two facing Main Street) were created on the west side, and the ground-floor windows were altered. Later the county acquired the property and had the cinder block building demolished to provide space for public parking. Through the intercession of Madisonians concerned with the preservation of the town’s history, the small brick building that had saved much of the early town from destruction by fire was spared and restored by the Madison County Historical Society.
Behind the Arcade is a garden designed and maintained by the Madison Garden Club.