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Meet the Staff: Evan Liddiard


From answering phone inquiries to photographing new acquisitions, the staff at the VHS have a wide range of talents that help make our collections accessible to the world. Who are the talented men and women of the VHS? In a series of “Meet the Staff” blog posts, we will introduce you to the people who work behind the scenes to collect, preserve, and interpret Virginia history.

Meet the Staff - Evan Liddiard

What is your job title?

Senior Education Specialist

When did you begin working at the VHS?

July 2011

What are your job duties?

I am in charge of HistoryConnects, the distance learning and digital outreach initiative of the VHS. This includes live, interactive programming, our online teacher institutes, and creating and sharing digital educational resources with our audiences here in Virginia, across the country, and all over the world!

HistoryConnects studio map

I keep a map in my office that shows all of the places in the U.S. that we have reached through HistoryConnects. The list of locations expands every day!

How did you become interested in history? Read more…

What Are the Five Physical Regions of Virginia’s Geography?


The Five Regions of VirginiaThe geography of Virginia has shaped both the history and economy of the state. It brought settlers and wars to the region, the federal capital to its edge, and its harbors facilitated commerce and the twentieth-century military buildup. Terrain and climate have determined the nature of the state’s agriculture and industries. To help understand this setting that has been critical to life in Virginia for thousands of years, geographers have identified five physical regions in the state: the Coastal Plain (Tidewater), Piedmont, Blue Ridge Mountains, Valley and Ridge, and Appalachian Plateau. To illustrate these five regions, selections from the display of landscape paintings at the Virginia Historical Society are pictured here.



A low-lying Coastal Plain spans the eastern seaboard from New Jersey to Georgia, extending westward from the ocean to a point where the flatness of the landscape stops and in Virginia the terrain rises 300 feet above sea level. As with all of the Virginia regions, its Coastal Plain was sculpted by hundreds of millions of years of geological evolution. At its core is a solid rock foundation formed 250–500 million years ago. The surface is covered by a thick wedge of eroded clay, sand, and gravel—two thirds of which was carried eastward by Virginia’s many rivers. When sea levels rose and fell with the repeated melting and growth of large continental glaciers, this plain was alternately submerged and exposed. During the last Ice Age, 25,000 years ago, sea levels were dramatically low and the Coastal Plain extended far eastward—fifty miles or more than it does today. When the ice sheets melted, 5,000–6,000 years ago, the Chesapeake lowland filled to form a bay, and the Coastal Plain slowly uplifted.


“Piedmont” is a French word meaning “foot of the mountains.” The American Piedmont extends from Pennsylvania to Alabama. Virginia’s Piedmont is separated from its Coastal Plain by a “Fall Line,” where rivers, small waterfalls, and rapids cascade or “fall” off hard, resistant rocks as they make their way to the ocean. Those rivers give the state its unique geography that has strongly affected its history and economy. The “Fall Line” runs through the port cities of Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Petersburg—beyond which the water is too shallow for deep-bottom ships to navigate.

The Piedmont is Virginia’s largest region. It is rolling hill country that gently rises to 1,000 feet, then doubles that height at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where its topography becomes more rugged.  The region’s bedrock—part of the ancient Appalachian mountain belt—is composed of a variety of rocks formed 541–2,500 million years ago, under extreme pressure and heat. Its geologic history is complex because during that time the bedrock was moved—some of it from outside of North America—by the shifting of oceans. This bedrock is covered by a twenty-meter blanket of deeply weathered rock (called “rotten rock”) that has been chemically changed by the Piedmont’s humid climate. Outcrops (exposed rock) are rarely found.


The Blue Ridge region runs nationally from southern Pennsylvania to the northern tip of South Carolina and Georgia. It is a rounded mountain range that looks blue from a distance. Its rugged appearance resulted from collisions there long ago of the most powerful geological forces. In Virginia, the rocks that form its core date from 1,000–1,600 million years ago; the oldest rocks in the region are more than a billion years old! Mountains were formed when rocks were pushed westward over the top of rock layers by an enormous force that was generated when two land masses to the east were squeezed together. Those two land masses later were ripped apart to become the continents of North American and Africa, an ocean formed, and as its sea level rose, sedimentary rocks were deposited in the Blue Ridge. That was 700–750 million years ago. The folding and faulting of this process of mountain formation left rocks deformed through heat and pressure. The continents were shoved together and split apart many times 245–540 million years ago, causing rocks to be deposited on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are covered with thick forests and rise to elevations more than 4,000 feet in the central and northern part of the state. Virginia’s southern Blue Ridge is a broad, relatively flat region, but the tallest peak in Virginia, Mount Rogers, is there (5,729 feet high).


Virginia’s Valley and Ridge region is part of a gigantic trough that runs from Quebec to Alabama and is called “the Great Valley.” Virginia’s portion is distinctive for its size (greater than that of any other state); its narrow and elongated parallel ridges (3,000–4,000 feet high); flat, lush valleys with gentle topography; and caves, caverns, and hot springs. The region developed its identity when bands of sedimentary rock that had been formed 252–541 million years ago were disturbed by a continental collision that produced a fold and thrust belt. Bands of rocks were caused to fold and move westward along thrust faults. They eroded differently, causing both ridges and valleys to be created. Sand and gravel washed down from the mountains of the Blue Ridge region; the sand and gravel in time turned into rock. At the end of this complex evolution, the surface of the Shenandoah Valley in central and northern Virginia emerged as both picturesque and fertile. Sandstone in the easternmost portion was overlain by carbonate deposits that in time produced caves and caverns in the subsurface.


The southwestern portion of Virginia is part of the great Appalachian Plateau that stretches from New York to Alabama. Virginia’s plateau is the smallest of the state’s five regions and contains only three counties (Wise, Dickenson, and Buchanan). The visible slope at its eastern edge gives the impression that it is a mountain range, but instead it is an eroded plain of sedimentary rock that has a high elevation of 2,000 feet above sea level—higher than that of the Valley and Ridge region. Thrust faults from the Valley and Ridge formed huge folds of rock beneath the plateau that failed to reach the surface. What resulted was a hilly and rugged terrain, strongly dissected by stream erosion, with many valleys and some portions of flat land. The upper layers of the plateau are covered with forests and are rich in coal, natural gas, and petroleum formed 250–540 million years ago.

Recommended reading:

William M. S. Rasmussen is lead curator and Lora M. Robins curator at the Virginia Historical Society.


Stamp Act Spoon, 1766


One in 8.5 Million

250 years ago today, the British Parliament repealed the controversial Stamp Act of 1765.


In order to help fund the expense of defending its American colonies, Great Britain instituted a tax on printed paper used by the colonists. Many in America opposed the Stamp Act, not because the tax was high, but because without representation in Parliament they had no voice in the decision. In the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry introduced the “Virginia Resolves,” which argued that Virginia was subject to taxation only by a parliament to which the colony itself elected representatives. Eight other colonies followed Virginia’s lead and passed similar resolves by the end of 1765.


Among those opposed to the act was Landon Carter (1710–1778) of Richmond County. His form of protest was more personal. When he directed his agent in London to purchase several tablespoons for his home, he ordered that if the Stamp Act was repealed, the spoons should be made of silver. If the act was not repealed, the agent was to send him cheap bone or horn spoons.


The act was repealed on March 18, 1766, and Carter’s agent had the silver spoons engraved with Carter’s initials, the date 1766, and the triumphant inscription “Repeal of the American Stamp Act.” The controversy over the Stamp Act brought to light a growing schism between the colonists and their king.


Stamp Act Spoon

Gift of Elizabeth Carter Guest Hollerith and John Wellford Guest in memory of their mother, Carol Randolph Wellford Guest (Accession number 1972.12)

The Virginia Historical Society has been collecting since 1831. Included in our unique collection are 8-million processed manuscripts, 200,000 books, 290,000 prints and photographs, and 32,000 museum objects documenting the daily lives and times of all Virginians. The object featured here offers one opportunity to look into the past. Millions more treasures await you at our headquarters in Richmond, by appointment at Virginia House, and online at

Color Our Collections!


Despite considering myself a very serious grownup, I still can’t help getting excited when I open up a new box of crayons with its rainbow of colors ready for the picking. That excitement is part of why I’m so pleased that the VHS is participating in this year’s #ColorOurCollections event from February 1 – February 5, 2016.

When considering which collection pieces we’d use to create our series of coloring sheets, we began by exploring the Society’s collection of wallpaper books. These rare books are actually folders of large-scale lithographs designed to advertise wall embellishments available to wealthy home decorators in the late 1800s. Our first selection is a detail from one of Jules Desfossé’s Papiers Peints featuring a cherub holding a bouquet of flowers; it’s easy to picture a decoration like this adorning the walls of an elegant European home.

Our next selection is one of the Society’s most popular three-dimensional artifacts: our 1946 Wurlitzer 1015 “Bubbler” Jukebox. I’ve taken countless visitors past this piece in our Story of Virginia galleries, and its glowing colors and bouncing bubbles never fail to bring a smile to their faces. This particular model features 24 song titles for listeners to choose among, and was one of Wurlitzer’s most popular models. My favorite story about this particular artifact, though, is that one of its owners supposedly traded a milk cow for the jukebox – something that I imagine would prove more entertaining than livestock.

Next, we have an illustration from the German book Slovenly Peter Reformed, by Heinrich Hoffman. This image is a staff favorite here, mostly because its unusual nature. The cautionary tales in this rare book (translated from the original German for American readers) reminded children of the dire consequences of their misbehavior. The unfortunate Peter, seen here, loses his friends after refusing to keep up his grooming habits. In fairness to Peter’s peers, I too would avoid anyone with such terrifying fingernails!

Our last selection is an image from our collection of 156 drawings by Civil War journalist Edwin Forbes. This drawing, “Dispatch Bearer,” depicts a rider bearing a message galloping past the artist; lines of artillerymen can be seen in the background of the image. Forbes spent two and a half years as a part of the “Bohemian Brigade” during the Civil War; these non-combatant artists and journalists documented the reality of the war for public consumption.

Below, you’ll find printable versions of coloring sheets we’ve created for you to download and cover in whatever colors spring from your imagination. I can’t wait to see how coloring enthusiasts around the country (and world!) transform these images from our collections into bright, vibrant works of art.

This activity offers us a chance to show a few gems that visitors aren’t likely to see by browsing our website or touring our galleries, and illustrates the diversity of our holdings. Use the accession numbers on the coloring pages to learn more about these selections on our online catalog, and please share your finished masterpieces with us on Facebook and Twitter using the #ColorOurCollections hashtag. At the end of the week, we’ll randomly select a name from the submitted sheets to win a prize pack full of Virginia Historical Society goodies, so be sure to post your photos by Friday, February 5, 2016.

Happy coloring!

Caroline Legros is the School Program Coordinator at the Virginia Historical Society.

The Darling of Miller & Rhoads


The following blog was written by Meika Downey who just completed her Hollins Univeristy J-term internship in the public relations and marketing department at the Virginia Historical Society.


Lizzie Oglesby

As an intern visiting from Roanoke and living in Richmond for the month, I wanted to do some research in the archives of the VHS. While researching in the library, I was eager to find something that was local to the city to write about. I began a preliminary search for women during World War II and soon discovered Richmond native Martha Brayton, who worked in the Miller & Rhoads department store from 1948 to about 1959, during the store’s economic boom years.

After serving five years in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II, Martha resumed her civilian life with an honorable discharge as a captain in 1946. Upon returning to her family home at 3211 Seminary Avenue in Richmond, Martha became involved with her local community by teaching youth theater and music and by providing children’s costumes. Enthralled, Martha opened the Little Theatre Costume Shop, which supplied nearby communities with costumes from 1947 to 1948. Having had experience and a passion for working with children, Martha sold the shop in 1948 and accepted a wonderful job offer as the new Youth Coordinator at the Miller & Rhoads department store in downtown Richmond.

Martha was widely successful in her post as Youth Coordinator and made a point of interacting with the Richmond community. During her time at Miller & Rhoads, she introduced the department store to new progressive youth programs. Among them, Martha developed children’s camps at the store and procured contracts with local camps to be completely outfitted by Miller & Rhoads. She brought in considerable revenue to the store and her efforts were a chief contributor to the franchise’s expansion to Lynchburg, Charlottesville, and Roanoke in the late 1950s.

Martha was beloved by her community, as indicated in this note and drawing given to her by a child, presumably in 1955. The year on the note is hard to read; while it looks like “1925,” which isn’t possible, it is more likely “1955.” (Call number: Mss 1 B7389 a)


Martha Brayton hosts one of her youth fashion shows at Miller & Rhoads. (Call number: Mss 1 B7389 a)

Martha showcased Miller & Rhoads’ fall and spring children’s lines by organizing youth fashion shows. She also frequently rented out the store’s various rooms for children’s and community events, including her popular Bingo game night. However, perhaps Martha’s greatest achievement was her creation of the “Fawn Shop,” which served as a store only for children where they could buy Christmas and holiday gifts for their families. All of the merchandise that Miller & Rhoads provided was sold at prices that kids could afford, ranging from $.15 cents to $1.98. During the month of December, Miller & Rhoads annually made more than $2,000 from the Fawn Shop, largely consisting of pennies, nickels, and dimes. This successful venture was repeated every year and earned Martha a thriving reputation. Though she never married, Martha thought of Miller & Rhoads and the city’s children as her family, even after she retired.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove posts that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.





Miller & Rhoads: “Where Christmas is a Legend”

An early photograph of a young boy visiting Legendary Santa (Virginia Historical Society, 2002.440.8)

The holiday season is characterized by tradition and often times these traditions have been routine with our families for years and years. For many Richmond families, one of these timeless holiday traditions is visiting the Miller and Rhoads Legendary Santa, or fondly known by many as The Real Santa.


My first job in high school was working for Legendary Santa as an elf. I experienced firsthand how invested families from Richmond (and beyond) are in the tradition of Miller and Rhoads and Legendary Santa. For many, visiting this Santa goes back three or four generations. It was never surprising when visitors would come in from other states, dressed in their best, just to visit and take the annual Santa photo. Over the years, as families have grown with additional generations, the tradition continues.

 “The Miller and Rhoads Santa with his flowing white hair and red velvet, fur-trimmed suit, established a Santa Claus standard, which no other has ever reached.”          -Louise Lipscomb, Memories of Miller & Rhoads, Style Weekly, September 1986

Thinking back to my fond memories of visiting “the Real Santa”, along with my memories of working with him for many years, I was interested in what the VHS had in the collection about this timeless Richmond (& Virginian) tradition. I found a multitude of books and magazine articles that have been published chronicling the impact and nostalgia that surrounds the once department store giant, Miller and Rhoads. I was surprised by some of the information and statistics that I found.

Legendary Santa opened to the public in the late 1930s. In 1942 alone, it is estimated that Santa saw 15,000 children. Santa photos actually did not exist in the beginning, there was an artist on site who would sketch children visiting with Santa, and sell these sketches for $1. These sketches led to photographs being taken. During the Christmas  of 1987, Legendary Santa saw a total of 120,000 people between Thanksgiving and Christmas (Thrower, Miller & Rhoads Legendary Santa). With statistics like these, it is no surprise that Legendary Santa is such a deep rooted tradition for Richmonders and beyond.

“At Christmastime, in addition to seeing the models and hearing Eddie Weaver play carols, we had to watch Santa Claus eat lunch in the tearoom.”      -Style Weekly, September 16, 1986


If you enjoyed reading about the days of old department stores, then you will love our new exhibit that opened on December 19th, Looking Good: Fashion in Virginia, 1930-1970. See items from the bygone days of shopping in Virginia at department stores like Miller & Rhoads, Thalhimers and Montaldo’s, including the original Tearoom sign from Miller & Rhoads.


Interested in learning more about Miller & Rhoads? Visit the Virginia Historical Society Pusey Museum Shop for books and other related items.

Julie Sjostrom is a Visitor Services Associate at the Virginia Historical Society.

A Summer Intern’s Introduction to the Archives at the VHS


Below are the reflections of our summer 2015 intern from the University of Virginia, Institute of Public History, Sarah Hainbach.

As an intern in the Collections Division of the VHS this past summer, my work centered around processing the business collection of the twentieth-century firm M. F. Neal & Company. I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed when I first encountered the five boxes of the collection. What was M. F. Neal & Company? Why were its papers at the VHS? Were they historically valuable? I learned that the company was a family business begun in Richmond in the 1920s in order to provide flavors for cigarettes and candy. The collection contained fascinating records of business trips around the world, intriguing links to the tobacco and food industries, and intimate notes between the Neal family members who worked for the firm. However, what I imagined to be the standard components of a VHS “business collection” were missing. Where were the company bylaws, the board meeting minutes, and the tax ledgers? Without these documents, was this really a business collection?  

I took my questions to my supervisor, veteran VHS archivist Laura Stoner. She explained that collections of small family businesses are often missing the more “official” paperwork, because the larger corporations that buy them keep those documents in their own archives. In exchange, family business collections often come with an extra bonus. Personal papers, from correspondence to photographs to school assignments, become intermingled with professional papers when a family runs a business. Desk drawers at work become storage for personal items as well as work-related ones, and when the desk is cleaned out and its contents are sent away to be archived, the VHS acquires both professional and personal artifacts. Laura pointed out that this phenomenon can add another layer of interest to the business collections at the society. By studying the history of Richmond and Virginia businesses, we also learn about individuals’ and families’ pasts. The two categories combine to create a full slice of life. In reality, divisions between the different sectors of our lives—home and work, school and play, family and friends—are not clearly defined. Keeping personal papers with business collections (but in a separate series) reflects this fluidity.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the less traditional components of the Neal Collection are the more visually interesting. Below, see an advertisement for the company in the nineteenth century, when it was known as Neal & Binford.

 Mss3 N2455a FA2 Series 1. Box 1Mss3.N2455a.FA2.Ser1.Box1_NealBinford

Mss3 N2455a FA2, Museum itemMMs_front

Although M. F. Neal & Company did the majority of its business with tobacco firms, its work in chocolate left behind, to me, the most interesting materials. The company’s president, Thomas D. Neal, kept souvenirs from his trips to chocolate factories, including old M&M wrappers. One package describes Mars chocolate as “a nourishing food.” Another proclaims M&M’s as the “official snack food” of the 1984 Olympics. These artifacts could prove useful to food historians (and chocolate lovers) everywhere. Did people in the 1980s really believe that chocolate was good for them? When did the pendulum start to swing the other way, toward kale salads and green smoothies? With the M. F. Neal & Company collection and other small-business records from the food industry, hopefully we can learn more about American food history and American business history in general.

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove posts that are offensive, threatening, or insulting. 


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