In the summer of 1965, a small group of local residents met on the porch of Agnes Harrison’s old house, Clearview, in Falmouth to discuss the eminent destruction of a very old school building at the bottom of the hill below Belmont, also in Falmouth. That October, a handful of concerned citizens organized “Historic Falmouth Towne and Stafford County, Inc.” (HFTSCI) and held its first official meeting at the Falmouth Firehouse. While they were unable to save the little school, that event stirred an awareness of the rapid loss of Stafford’s old buildings and generated an interest in researching, preserving, and sharing the county’s rich history. For a number of years, the group met in the old homes owned by the different members.
Some of the goals of the group included:
All of these remain relevant today.
Not surprisingly, much of the organization’s energy was focused on the history of the town of Falmouth, which had been an international shipping port for much of the 18th century and a textile manufacturing center for the first half of the 19th century. Numerous 18th and 19th century buildings survived there and the HFTSCI was successful in preserving and studying several of them.
Some of the earliest activities of the group included stabilization of the Union Church tower in Falmouth; lectures by noted historians; a Garden Club of Virginia tour of early Falmouth buildings in 1969; recognition by the Virginia Landmarks Commission of the importance of the port of Falmouth; and field trips for members to historic sites in and around Falmouth.
Beginning in 1974, (mostly) quarterly newsletters were published and included articles about various aspects of Stafford history along with information about upcoming SCHS programs and events. These remain important sources of historical information about Stafford County.
By the mid-1970s, the HFTSCI owned Hobby School and helped care for Shelton’s Cottage, the Magistrate’s Office, and Union Church, all of which are in Falmouth.
In 1976, the HFTSCI worked with the Stafford County Bicentennial Commission, which undertook several restoration, preservation, and interpretation projects, though the group largely remained interested in Falmouth.
In 1983, they created “More Than a Cookbook: A Flavorful Heritage,” which included recipes from local cooks as well as sketches and brief descriptions of a number of historic sites in Stafford. This volume, sold as a fund-raiser, was quite popular and continued to be offered for sale for some 30 years.
In 1986 and 1987, HFTSCI volunteers worked with Mary Washington College to conduct oral history interviews of local residents. These were recorded, transcribed, and bound and are on file at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in downtown Fredericksburg.
1980’s – 1990’s
In addition to membership dues and donations, for some twenty years additional funding was generated by annual chicken barbeques that were popular with Stafford residents. In the 1980s and 1990s, the organization also conducted several “Harvest Walking Tours of Falmouth” as fund-raising events.
Beginning in January of 1991, the rather cumbersome name, “Historic Falmouth Towne and Stafford County, Inc.” was shortened to “Stafford County Historical Society, Inc.” The group’s focus had been gradually expanding to be more inclusive of other historical sites scattered around the county. Monthly programs related to Stafford’s history continued to be offered to members and non-members and members-only field trips to local historic sites were organized.
Throughout its 58 years of operation, the Society has sought to have a museum that would showcase the county’s remarkable and varied history. In the 1980s, volunteers manned a small history museum in the Magistrate’s Office in Falmouth and the organization commenced accepting donations of items and artifacts pertaining to Stafford’s history. But a small museum manned by a limited number of volunteers wasn’t viable and the organization has continued to try to encourage the Stafford County Board of Supervisors and other administrative officers of the value of a museum for Stafford residents. In 1996, public funding for the museum was put up for a vote as a bond referendum, but was narrowly defeated.
The Stafford Museum Endowment Fund Committee was formed in 2004 and operated as part of the SCHS until the Board of Supervisors required that the Committee become a separate entity with its own 501c3 status. One of the Committee’s accomplishments was the creation of the “virtual museum” website.
The Committee, now known as the Stafford County Museum and Cultural Center, merged in 2021 with the SCHS and functions as a committee of the SCHS.
Discover Stafford is looking for volunteers for our upcoming events and projects. If you can spare some time to help out, it would be greatly appreciated. Even just a few hours can make a big difference