By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: May 14, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – The vibrant red brick walls and strong archways of the county’s historic courthouse place host to what has become a popular attraction for not only county residents, but those across the region and even abroad and, as it turns ten years old, county leaders thanked the Prince George County Regional Heritage Center for its efforts to preserve the county’s history.
Last month, the Prince George Board of Supervisors joined nearly a dozen volunteers and the center’s executive director Carol Bowman in honoring the center as it celebrates ten years of operations within the confines of the historic courthouse building along Courthouse Road in the shadows of the government complex.
The history of this now-institution in Prince George County dates back to the mid-2000s when the county leased the courthouse, which dates back to the late 1800s, to the Prince George County Historical Society in March of 2005 with the expressed goal of “creating a place to commemorate and share the history of Prince George County.”
Shortly after that lease was approved, crews began the painstaking work of restoring the building using sweat and brawn to transform the former courthouse into a living museum with exhibits that chronicle the county’s storied history, from its creation all the way to more modern times, while preserving the memory of the county’s fallen service members given the county’s hand-in-hand relationship with the military and Fort Lee.
According to the county and the center, since its formal opening in 2008, “The Prince George County Regional Heritage Center has designed, created, and maintained eight galleries with sixty plus major exhibitions, attracted over 50,000 visitors to Prince George County, and brought historical education to hundreds of students of all ages.”
In a special commendation to the center adopted during the Prince George Board of Supervisors meeting in mid-April, the county praised the center for “vitally enhancing the community and expanding educational horizons with world-class programs,” such as its lecture series, and various cultural events.
Prince George Regional Heritage Center executive director Carol Bowman is joined by loyal volunteers from the center during last month’s Prince George Board of Supervisors meeting as Marlene Waymack reads a resolution. (Michael Campbell)
In the past, the center has hosted various individuals to deliver insightful and thought-provoking lectures within the confines of the heritage center’s walls, including Czech Embassy Cultural Attaché Dr. Robert Rehák, given the county close ties to Czech and Slovak community. That talk, entitled “The Magic of Prague: Life and Legends of Czechs and Jews in the Heart of Europe” featured ancillary photo projections to support a great number of topics including the spread of religion, magic, and a personal account of living under the rule of communism in Czechoslovakia.
That commitment to preserving and maintaining a strong connection with the county’s Czech and Slovak roots serves as a pillar of not just the center but also the annual Virginia Czech and Slovak Folklife Festival, held every fall on the grounds of the historic courthouse.
Since 2013, the Prince George County Regional Heritage Center, the Virginia Czech and Slovak Heritage Society, and Prince George County have partnered to celebrate the rich and vibrant history and culture of the Czech and Slovak families that immigrated to this area.
During the late 1800s, after the end of the Civil War, over 700 Czech and Slovak families came to live in Virginia. Many of these immigrants settled in farmhouses that had been abandoned during the war in the counties of Prince George, Dinwiddie, and Chesterfield. There continues to be a large population, culture, and heritage of the descendants of these Czech and Slovak immigrants in all three counties and throughout Virginia.
Every year, the festival has grown in size and sees turnout from well beyond the county’s borders as many travel from, at times, great distances to take part in the traditional music, dance, food, and culture the Virginia Czech and Slovak Folklife Festival allows the community to learn about and embrace first-hand.
In addition, the festival has garnered statewide attention for its cultural significance to the region and the Commonwealth as, in 2018, Virginia Delegate Emily Brewer (R-64) and Senator Rosalyn Dance each introduced legislation recognizing the festival for its impact on the community and its ability to connect Virginians to Czech and Slovak culture.
“The Virginia Czech & Slovak Folklife Festival is a celebration of the immigrants and their families who helped shape cultural life in Central Virginia, while also contributing to the community in a wide variety of trades and professions,” part of the General Assembly legislation read.
Along with their part in helping host this significant regional festival, the center is also committed to delivering community experiences throughout the year, including Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day observances and the popular Founder’s Day event hosted each summer by the center to celebrate the county’s founding anniversary over 300 years ago.
Events like Founder’s Day and other special ceremonies at the center gives the community to visit and take in exhibits that chronicle the rich history of Prince George County. (Michael Campbell)
In addition, the center has worked to identify those fallen servicemen and women who came from Prince George County and put together additional information about who they are, when and where they died, the branch of military and unit they served in, where they are buried or if they are missing in action, who their survivors are, among other information, with their names being permanently memorialized on stone monuments outside the center. The center also has an exhibit inside the county administration building on the first floor which currently features a bust of the county’s namesake, Prince George of Denmark, along with a variety of information and facts about the county through an intimate visual exhibit.
Recently, several more names have been added to their memorial thanks to the tireless efforts of the center’s volunteers, who Bowman calls “second-to-none.”
“We look back with pride at the ten-years of accomplishments and service of the Prince George County Regional Heritage Center and look forward to its expanding success in the future,” the commendation reads.
Following its anniversary celebration in late April, the center is expected to host another celebration on June 8. The center will also be taking putting their own spin on the “50 Days of Love” events going on around the Commonwealth in honor of the 50th anniversary of the “Virginia is for Lovers” tourism slogan with its “50 Years of Love in Prince George” feature, where couples who have been together for 50 or more years will be showcased, telling their stories of enduring love. That exhibit will run until June 15.
To learn more about the center, its offerings and how to get involved, call 804-863-0212 or visit their website at http://princegeorgevahistoricalsociety.org.