PETERSBURG, Va. -- A new visitor center opened in Petersburg, near two years after city leaders closed all museums and laid off tourism staff to save money.
A grass-roots effort, known as the Petersburg Preservation Task Force, opened two museums on limited operation, and recently opened a new Visitors Center in the building formerly known as the Siege Museum.
The museum, now called The Exchange Building, will focus on nearly four centuries of Petersburg history, not just the four and a half years of the Civil War.
The new museum is still about two months away from opening and will feature history “from Native American to Moses Malone,” according to Dean McCray, head of the Petersburg Preservation Task Force.
While the museum used to be led by city employees, it is now run by volunteers.
Gene Ross spent more than two decades as a city employee in tourism and museums, but now spends time as a volunteer in the Visitors Center.
“I think it’s important and I’m very interested in the history,” Ross said. “We need this to provide people with all the information we can tell them about the history of Petersburg, not only the Civil War history but all the history of Petersburg over its 400 years.”
The newly renovated museum will look nothing like it did when it closed.
“We have a beautiful rotunda once we remove some of the 1970s walls,” McCray said. “We have 300,000 artifacts from the City of Petersburg but only 10,000 relate to the Civil War.”
“People are going to be shocked at some of the things we found, catalogued, and are going to show,” McCray continued.
The opening of the new museum and visitors center will be a big deal for the city.
“We are showing that we’re dedicated to getting tourists down here for the shopping, for the dining,” said Andrea Huntjens, co-owner of Petersburg Provisions. “Obviously us being across the street is a win-win for us.”
The center has welcomed more than 100 visitors since it opened in mid-June, and will host a grand opening and ribbon cutting July 10 at 10 a.m. The visitor center is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.