More Than Two Decades in the Making: Historic Homestead Opening for Tours

The nine-acre property includes a home, which was built in 1848
The nine-acre site is located in Wytheville, Va.
The nine-acre site is located in Wytheville, Va.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 7:10 PM EDT
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WYTHEVILLE, Va. (WVVA) - A nine-acre homestead property opens to the public this month in Wytheville. It’s called the Willowbrook Jackson/Umberger Homestead, and it includes a decorative arts museum, smoke house, Henry Umberger cabin, spring house, kitchen house, log barn, blacksmith, gunsmith and woodworking shops.

When is the grand opening?

The homestead opens to the public on Wed. March 29. It is located at 1125 Tazewell St. in Wytheville, Va. There will a ribbon cutting with the local Wytheville-Wythe-Bland Chamber of Commerce at 11 am. The ribbon cutting will take place at Wythe County Decorative Arts Museum, which is part of the nine-acre Homestead property.

It's located in Wytheville, Va.
It's located in Wytheville, Va.

What is the story behind the homestead?

The goal to open the homestead was more than two decades in the making, according to the Town of Wytheville Dept. of Museums. It began in the year 2000 when the Jackson family donated the property to the town of Wytheville. It was then divided into parcels,

“Every five years since 2005, one parcel has been conveyed to the town, with the last parcel (including the 1848 home) in 2020. The Jacksons, great supporters of the community, wanted the property to interpret and preserve the history of Wythe County farm life within the context of the 18th century to the late 19th century,” according to the Wytheville Dept. of Museums.

“This is an important milestone in fulfilling the potential of the homestead to become a regional center of education and preservation,” said Frances Emerson, who retired last December after 28 years as museum director for the Wytheville Dept. of Museums.

It's set to open March 29.
It's set to open March 29.

What work was put into making the homestead come back to life?

A lot of work needed to be done to get the nine-acre homestead open for tours.

“...Not only with restoration of existing structures but adding blacksmith, gunsmith and woodworking shops. Adding walkways, signage, outdoor lighting and emergency/handicap accessible parking were also part of the process. The Jackson family home has taken the most work – in just the last eight months the home has had new heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing as well as new museum grade windows and internet connection to the Town network. Not to mention getting rooms ready with plaster work and paint to house an extensive decorative arts collection,” according to the Wytheville Dept. of Museums.

“It’s been very exciting to see this property come together, after I was made site manager in 2021,” said Michael Gillman, Manager of Historic Sites/Homestead Museum Operations for the Town of Wytheville Department of Museums. “We have made leaps and bounds to provide great, accurate history of early settlers in Wythe and Southwest Virginia from the 18th century to the late 19th century…the opening of the decorative arts museum in the 1848 home is just icing on the cake.”

Gillman says visitors will also get to see things like baskets, weapons, furniture and more made in Wythe County. They will also get to see how people of bygone eras used these items.

“I’m not aware of another site focusing on a singular county’s contributions to the rich and diverse history of Southern decorative arts. We have accomplished that here at the Willowbrook Jackson/Umberger Homestead,” said Gillman. “I can’t wait to share the cultural heritage of Wythe County, Virginia and Southwest Virginia to all who come, near or far!”

It's located in Wythevilla, Va.
It's located in Wythevilla, Va.

How will the homestead be used for events?

The homestead can also be used for festivals and other events, which leaders believe will help draw visitors from around the region to Wytheville.

“We are also initiating a Bluegrass, Arts, Bourbon and Ale (BABA) Festival this Spring to feature music, artisans and various local distilleries and breweries. We are really looking forward to future events and programs, in addition to opening up the Homestead property to the public for tours. I am grateful to have such a wonderful team who have transformed the site into such a treasure,” said Grant Gerlich, director for the Wytheville Dept. of Museums.

When is the homestead open?

Tours of the Homestead, including the decorative arts museum, will be held Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 am – 4 pm. Tour admission is $10. For more information or to schedule a tour, call (276) 617-0773.