One of the best ways to learn about any city is to seek out its history museum or historical society. Richmond is lucky to have an amazing museum, The Valentine, which has been preserving the city’s history since 1898. This museum is family-friendly and is a stop that every trip to Richmond should include.
The museum is located in Richmond’s historic Court End neighborhood, also home to the White House of the Confederacy and the John Marshall House. While this area has undergone extreme growth due to the construction of Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical school and hospitals, the block on which The Valentine sits has been preserved and is a wonderful representation of what life was like in this area at the turn of the century.
If you use the museum’s parking lot, you will enter the museum through the back, walking by several huge advertising signs from Richmond’s past.
The more picturesque entrance is off East Clay Street, where you can see the exterior of the townhomes that make up the museum.
No matter how you enter, once inside, you can purchase tickets and get on the list for the next tour of the Wickham house, which is one of the must-see sites at the museum for families with older elementary children. If you have children under the age of 10, however, I recommend skipping the house tour and heading straight to the galleries. Be sure to grab a copy of the children’s activity book for the galleries to give your child a fun way to interact with the artifacts.
While waiting on the house tour, explore the “This is Richmond, Virginia” exhibition, which begins just past the ticket desk. You will see vintage artifacts from Richmond’s history, including an old carousel horse and dug out canoe.
One of the most historic documents on display is a map drawn by Captain John Smith in 1608, the earliest known depiction of Richmond. My son’s favorite displays are along the back wall, including a massive portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette and a drawer containing souvenir gloves from Lafayette’s visit to Richmond in 1824.
Be sure to look down at the floor at the street grid of Richmond.
By exploring the galleries and all of the stories contained in this one room, you can get a better idea of Richmond’s 400 years of history.
In the adjacent gallery and in the downstairs exhibit space, you will find temporary exhibits. On our latest visit, these galleries housed a fascinating behind-the-scenes exhibit on caring for and displaying the clothing in The Valentine’s collection. During business hours, you can actually talk to staffers from the museum’s costumes and textiles team as they catalog, sort, and display artifacts. Your budding fashionista will be excited to learn how clothes play an important role in history!
The newest exhibit, which will be unveiled tomorrow, is #Ballot Battle: Richmond’s Social Struggle for Suffrage. This exhibit is very timely, with the upcoming 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I can’t wait to go back to see this!
With kids, the newly renovated Wickham house cellar is a not-to-be-missed experience.
The cellar contains hands-on exhibits and artifacts, especially for children to explore.
My son loved playing with the real kitchen items on display.
There is also a 10-minute movie, “Shared Spaces: Separate Stories” about the enslaved population at the Wickham house during the 19th century. The movie contains actual interviews with former slaves and is appropriate for kids.
If your children are fans of the book, Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, they will love the replica box on display. Kids are encouraged to get in the box and see firsthand what courage Henry showed by using a similar box to gain his freedom from slavery. This type of immersive learning is important for kids and will be something that they remember.
At your tour time, meet you guide in the lobby, and they will escort you to the Wickham house. This home was built in 1812 and is a wonderfully preserved example of 19th century architecture and decor. Your tour will start upstairs in rooms housing the artifacts and original collections from the Valentine family. Your kids will love learning about the meat juice that gave the family its fortune!
My son enjoyed looking at all of the artifacts in the second room, which contains hundreds of small items such as arrowheads and other items excavated from archaeological digs.
In the master bedroom, you will learn more about the Wickham family who built the home. My son was fascinated to know that Mr. Wickham was Aaron Burr’s lawyer during his treason trial, conducted in Richmond in 1807.
In the additional second floor bedroom, you will hear more about the enslaved persons who worked at the Wickham house. The pallet on the floor is a stark reminder of the unjust treatment the enslaved persons endured.
This room contains replicas of items so your kids are free to touch anything and can even sit on the bed!
Don’t miss the chamberpot chair in the corner!
Your tour will go back down to the first floor. The stairs are very narrow and steep so please be sure to encourage your children to hold on to the railing.
The downstairs rooms are decorated as they appeared in the early 19th century. From the authentic foyer floor made of canvas to the parlors, the home is grand and opulent.
My son’s favorite room was the dining room where very realistic-looking fake food is on display.
As you leave the Wickham house, be sure to step outside into the lovely enclosed garden, where you can see the beauty of the home. If it is a weekday, this is a perfect place to pick up a sandwich from the museum’s cafe and eat in a tranquil setting.
Don’t miss the excellent gift shop located at the entrance for fun Richmond-related books, toys, and souvenirs.
The Valentine plans many special events, tours, and kid-friendly activities throughout the year, including the popular Court End Christmas in December. I also enjoy their walking tours around Richmond. Check out the museum’s event page for more details.
The Valentine also has a second location that is a short 5-minute drive from the main site on East Clay Street. The Valentine First Freedom Center is a small museum dedicated to celebrating the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was signed on this very spot.
This center is free and is a short stop that is worth the quick drive. Your kids will love posing with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison while learning more about religious freedom and what that means.
Watch this brief video to learn more about the center before your visit. This location also has an extensive gift shop.
A visit to Richmond isn’t complete without learning more about the rich history of the city. So much has happened in this area, from the very founding of our country to the present day, and I know your kids will enjoy learning more about it as they visit The Valentine!
- Main location: $10/adults; children/free
- First Freedom Center: free
- Museum: ages 6 and up
- House tour: ages 10 and up
- Tour time:
- Guided tour of Wickham house: 45 minutes
- Galleries at main location: 30-45 minutes
- Gallery at First Freedom Center: 15 minutes
- Gift shop located at both sites
- Main location: Parking lot is located behind the museum on 10th Street. Be sure to get your ticket validated.
- First Freedom Center: Street parking is available. A parking garage is located across the street at the corner of 14th and Cary Streets.
- Public Transportation: The Valentine is accessible on the GRTC PULSE bus line, at the VCU Medical Center stop.
- Dining options nearby:
- Main location: Carriage House Cafe is open Monday-Friday in the garden of the museum. On weekends, head to Broad Street for several options, including Tarrant’s Cafe.
- First Freedom Center: My kids’ favorite restaurant nearby is City Dogs. It is also close to another Richmond favorite, Bottoms Up Pizza.
- Nearby attractions:
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
- Richmond and the State of Virginia: Cool Stuff Every Kid Should Know
- Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring
- Susanna’s Midnight Ride: The Girl Who Won the Revolutionary War
- The Virginia Mysteries series
- 6 and up:
What was your child’s favorite artifact at The Valentine? Comment below!