The museum is unique for a number of reasons, according to Edinburg Mayor Dan Harshman, who was honored for his over 12 years of dedicated effort to design and build the museum. He was cited as the driving force behind the project's success and was honored with a portrait and plaque that will hang in the museum. Harshman noted that it's nearly impossible to conduct a typical museum tour among the four floors of “nooks and crannies.” It's more of place to just wander around in and experience a sort of one-on-one contact with earlier life in the Shenandoah Valley – more like poking around in an old, cluttered attic to discover some fascinating tidbit of history at every turn.
The Edinburg Mill remained in commercial production until the the 1970s and had narrowly escaped being burned during the Civil War. Four floors of exhibits and artifacts interpret everything from early Shenandoah Valley roads and river transportation to 1800s and 1900s town life. Harshman says that the mill building itself is a museum piece.
The future of the mill had become uncertain during the 1990s after two major floods and the closing of a restaurant that had operated there. When the building began to deteriorate, the town stepped in and took it over. A “Save The Mill” fundraising campaign followed, although the task of renovating the mill into a museum turned out to be a bigger and more obsessive job than Harshman had ever anticipated.
A state transportation enhancement grant provided the initial way forward for the Edinburg Heritage Foundation take on the project. The Edinburg Mill became the first structure in Virginia to benefit from a new provision in a grant that now funded preservation of historic buildings along historic roadways. The mill sits along historic U.S. Route 11, formerly the Great Wagon Road.
The renovation project began around 2000, with Harshman almost immediately moving into a lead role as general contractor and chief display designer. He soon distinguished himself by his willingness to roll up his own sleeves do whatever carpenter, painting and other construction work became necessary. Now, his creative touch is everywhere.
The Town of Edinburg had always envisioned a museum at the mill. But funding economics suggested the addition of retail shops, a visitor center and a bigger, better restaurant than the popular one that had operated there during the end of the 1900s. Harshman was restaurant owner in a previous career. Still, the newly-designed and extensively improved restaurant is not yet serving meals.
Throughout the museum, three-dimensional, interactive maps interpret Valley transportation history. A 50-seat theater offers showings of a Civil War documentary about The Burning, recalling the final chapter of the War in the the Shenandoah Valley. The Burning was a time of utter destruction, including the burning of Valley mills. The Edinburg Mill managed to survive the conflagration, reportedly after the miller's granddaughters ran to meet Union Gen. Philip H. Sheridan and implore him to spare it from the torch.
For Dan Harshman, the historic value of the mill and its importance to the town are what has kept him at it all these years. “I knew that we could not allow something to happen to this building. It is Edinburg. And it always has been. And I think that probably was some of the force behind me getting involved. And I just am one of those people that likes to get their hands dirty, and this has been a great project for that.”
The Edinburg Mill is online at EdinburgMill.org.
Photos and story copyright ©2012 by Shenandoah Valley Productions LLC