Upcoming Events

Camille Remembrance Program

Saturday, August 20, 2016 ~ 2:00 pm ~ Nelson United Methodist Church

The devastation brought by Hurricane Camille in 1969 to the Davis Creek community will be the focus of the Nelson County Historical Society’s annual commemoration to be held Saturday, Aug. 20 beginning at 2 p.m. at Nelson United Methodist Church.

Debbie Harvey, who lived on Davis Creek at the time of the flood, will introduce a new video of interviews with eight people who either lived on Davis Creek or had relatives there, telling stories of survival, loss and heroism. Davis Creek resident Tiffany Spencer will narrate a slide show with photographs of the damage done and nearly all the people, young and old, who lost their lives the night of August 19-20, 1969

Fifty-two people died on Davis Creek during Camille, 22 from the Huffman family alone. A total of 124 people died in Nelson County.

A short video on how the Ginger Gold apple emerged from the wreckage of the Harvey orchard to become a nationwide phenomenon will also be presented, as will a Powerpoint by Dick Whitehead showing why the topography of Davis Creek led to the loss of so many lives and households.

The 90-minute program is free and open to the public. Oakland Museum, which houses an exhibit on Camille, will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Both the church and Oakland are located on Thomas Nelson Highway (U.S. 29) across from Tye River Elementary School.

Some Past Events

Camille Remembrance Program

Saturday, August 22, 2015 ~ 1:00 pm ~ United Methodist Church

The Nelson County Historical Society and Oakland Museum commemorated the 46th anniversary of Hurricane Camille’s devastating impact on the county with a presentation by Science and Operations Officer Steve Keighton of the Blacksburg office of the National Weather Service at the United Methodist Church.

Keighton’s slide presentation, “Forecasting Camille: Advances in Meteorology, Communications and Safety Preparedness for Weather Events,” focused on what Camille has to teach us about safety and preparedness for unusual weather events, the meteorological conditions that caused upwards of 27 inches of rain to fall on the county in less than five hours, and how weather forecasting has changed since the time of Camille. The presentation included slides illustrating the weather phenomenon that created the downpour and the conditions that caused dozens of landslides that took the lives of 125 people and caused millions of dollars of damage to property.

The program also featured a new song about the flood written and performed by Sue Harlow, an Americana-Folk Singer/Songwriter from Louisa, VA. Her inspiration for "Nelson County Flood" came from talking to some dear friends in Nelson County of the devastation and lost of lives in the flood. “I actually tried to imagine how a child who lived through this terrifying experience, may have felt as the rain kept coming down...the fear, the uncertainty, the loss, and the prayer of staying alive,” Harlow said.

The program also included never-before-seen color slides of the damage caused by Camille taken by the late A.T. Stevens Jr. of Stevens Cove.

Mountain Folk: Book-signing by Lynn Coffey of her lastest book

Saturday, July 11 ~ 11:00 am to 3:00 pm ~ Oakland Museum

Lynn Coffey is well known for the three volumes of her Backroads books, compilations of articles from her newspaper of the same name that she published from 1981 to 2006. In these articles, she sought to record and honor the fast-disappearing way of life of the mountain people in and around the town of Love, Virginia, where she moved in 1981. A later book Appalachian Heart contains current oral histories of 19 people who were born and still live in the Virginia highlands.

Her most recent book Mountain Folk, which came out in June, continues in the tradition of her earlier publications.

Toys and Games of Yesteryear

Saturday, April 18 ~ 10:00 am to 2:30 pm ~ Oakland Museum

The Oakland Museum opened for the season on with a temporary exhibit of antique toys and games and a special program of games of earlier times for children to play.

Outdoor games were organized by retired teacher Kathy Townsend, who brought a variety of games for children going back to the 1800s. Among the indoor games available for children to play were dominoes, checkers, blocks, jackstraws and tiddlywinks.

The exhibit featured toys and games that children might have played with prior to the 1960s.

Camille Anniversary Program

Saturday, August 23, 2014 ~ 1:00 pm ~ Nelson United Methodist Church

Oakland Museum and the Nelson County Historical Society held their 45th anniversary commemoration of Hurricane Camille at the Nelson United Methodist Church.

The program featured stories of rescue and recovery told by people who lived through the event, which occurred on Aug. 19-20, 1969, and took the lives of 125 people while devastating parts of the county.

Participants included Stephen New of Richmond, who will told about camping at Crabtree Falls as Camille approached and his terrifying journey to U.S. 29 at Woods Mill where he was helped by the late Curtis Matthews to escape the storm’s wrath.

A round-table of Lovingston residents at the time of the flood, included Al and Johnny Ponton and Bar Delk, who spoke about what they experienced as a landslide of mud and water swept through the northern part of the village. They will also discuss the rescue and recovery effort.  Tessie Kilmartin Lamb, a Lovingston teenager at the time of Camille, and others described their experience the night of the flood.

Glenn and Ellen Birch sand a song they wrote about Camille, and Mary Buford Hitz was on hand to sign copies of her novel “Riding to Camille,” a fictional account that centers on the event.

More than 100 color slides of several areas of the county taken by the late Helen G. Quinn of Piney River in the days right after the flood that have never been shown publicly were displayed.

National Museum Day with Lynn Coffey and Ted Hughes

Saturday, September 28, 2013 ~ Oakland Museum

Oakland Museum offered free admission to visitors in observance of National Museum Day. The national event is promoted by the Smithsonian Institution to recognize the rich educational value of America's museums and to encourage adults and children to explore them.

Lynn Coffey was there to sign copies of her latest book, Appalachian Heart: Oral Histories of the Mountain Elders, and Ted Hughes (who is featured in one chapter of Coffey's book) was there with his new map showing the effect of Camille on town of Massies Mill. The two of them are prepared to share stories and reminiscences with museum visitors.

Lynn Coffey is well known for the three volumes of her Backroads books, compilations of articles from her newspaper of the same name that she published from 1981 to 2006. In these articles, she sought to record and honor the fast-disappearing way of life of the mountain people in and around the town of Love, Virginia, where she moved in 1981. Her newest book Appalachian Heart contains current oral histories of 19 people who were born and still live in the Virginia highlands. They speak of lives without modern conveniences or technology, when the hard work required for survival produced a special satisfaction.

A native of Massies Mill, Ted Hughes has created a map showing the impact of the Camille flood on that village. It will be available for sale in two sizes, framed or unframed. The owner of Chalk Level Buggy Works, Hughes is known for his restorations of horse-drawn carriages and sleighs as well as antique farm equipment.

Antique Appraisals by Ken Farmer

Saturday, October 5, 2013 ~ 7:00 ~ Nelson Center

“Antiques Roadshow” guest appraiser Ken Farmer was on hand for Oakland's fundraiser, speaking about his experiences on “Antiques Roadshow” and then appraising 20 items brought by area residents, who had previously applied to have items appraised. The appraisals were viewed live and on a large screen television.

Ken Farmer became a student of American antiques and a bluegrass musician more than 25 years ago. He began as a collector and dealer and entered the auction, appraisal and real-estate brokerage business in the mid-1970s. His areas of expertise include Southern material culture, American furniture, folk art, decorative arts, musical instruments (excluding violins, brass and woodwinds), collectibles, and fine art. Quinn & Farmer Auctions has an office in Charlottesville, where Farmer now lives. The company has a full-time gallery for catalogue and specialty auctions, and also holds auctions on the premises, both real and personal property. Mr. Farmer has been a guest appraiser on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow” since 1997. He is a member of the Certified Auctioneers Institute, the Virginia and National Auctioneers Association and the Appraisers Association of America.

Camille Anniversary Program: Trooper Ed Tinsley and a new Slideshow

Saturday, August 17, 2013 ~ 1:00 & 2:15 ~ Oakland Museum

Oakland Museum commemorated the 44th anniversary of Hurricane Camille with a presentation by Ed Tinsley, a Virginia State Trooper who was one of the first to respond to the disaster and kept an audio diary of his experiences.  Tinsley spoke about and showed slides of Camille.

Trooper Tinsley spent hundreds of hours in Nelson County helping with search and recovery efforts in the wake of Camille, recording his recollections and taking photos of what he witnessed.  He was a trooper for 45 years, the only Virginia state trooper to achieve that length of service.  He has made presentations on Camille dozens of times to community organizations and schools, donating any income from these presentations to the museum.

On the same day, Oakland presented “Voices and Photos of Camille,” a new 13-minute slideshow that uses an audio documentary by WVTF public radio as a soundtrack for photos mainly taken in the immediate aftermath of the event. It played continuously in the Camille exhibit room. The documentary accompanying the slideshow features the voices of Nelsonians who experienced Camille. They include then-School Superintendent Henry Conner, Warren Raines (who, together with his brother Carl, survived the flood but suffered the loss of their parents and siblings), then-county Supervisor Cliff Wood, and six other county residents.

Civil War Living History

Saturday, April 13, 2013 ~ 10:00 - 4:00 ~ Oakland Museum

Oakland presented a special outdoor program featuring Civil War reenactors and live Civil War era music, held on the Museum's grounds, partially under tents. Highlighting the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, the program was of special interest to Civil War history and music lovers as well as to families with school-age children.

From 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, a group of Nelson County Civil War re-enactors known as the 19th Virginia Infantry Company G opened their tents to visitors of all ages, portrayingn the way of life of the Virginia Civil War soldier, displaying military uniforms, doing firing demonstrations, cooking their own meals over a camp fire and engaging young people in Civil War games and other activities. They welcomed any questions from visitors and dressed in authentic garb as Civil War soldiers, civilians and youth. Based in Afton, the Nelson reenactors are headed by Captain Clark Dodd. The group has participated in numerous Civil War battlefield re-enactments in Virginia.

Nelson County's James Bibb also displayed his collection of artifacts, including bullets, buttons and a cannonball.

From 1:30 to 3:00 pm, David Wooldridge and Corbin Hayslett used words and music to tell the story of the life and music of Joel Sweeney and his kin and the origin of the modern banjo. Appomattox native Joel Sweeney learned the banjo from local African-Americans and became one of the first white men to play the instrument on stage. Sweeney toured the East Coast and eventually Europe and was an important part of the popularization of banjo music in the mid-19th century. Joel Sweeney's younger brother, Sampson ("Sam") and Richard ("Dick"), and his sister Missouri were also talented banjo and fiddle players. Joel and Dick both died in 1860, but Sam Sweeney enlisted in the Confederate Army, serving in the 2nd Virginia Cavalry. Sam Sweeney and his banjo playing came to the attention of the famed cavalry general J.E.B. Stuart, who attached Sweeney to his staff and whose love of Sweeney's banjo playing became legendary.

Corbin Hayslett used the banjo to illustrate the main points of Wooldridge's presentation and then performed music featured on Hayslett's new CD Spirit of Sweeney, an album of pre-civil war era banjo and southern music of Virginia featuring Jim Robertson of Amherst and Woody McKenzie of Lynchburg.

Remembering the Old Lovingston High School.

Saturday, November 17 ~ 2:00 pm ~ Oakland Museum

More than eighty years ago, a Lovingston High School flourished right in the middle of the town of Lovingston. It opened in 1908 with only one story, but a second story was eventually added to the frame building to meet the needs of increased enrollment. One of the first accredited high schools in Nelson, the first Lovingston High School represented an imporant step in providing quality education in the county. Later, in 1931, it closed its doors and was replaced by the brick building on Route 29 that is now the Nelson Center.

On November 17, Oakland presented a program and exhibit on the first Lovingston High School, in conjunction with its exhibit on the History of Nelson County Schools. It was expected to be the first of many programs focusing on specific schools in Nelson's past.

The presentation, which was accompanied by many photos displayed on a large screen, traced the history of the school, placing it in the context of the history of education in the county and state. It also included descriptions of the life of the students and faculty of the school, based to a great extent on interviews with former students of the school. of reviews accompanied by photos displayed on a large screen. Some former students were present! On display were numerous items relating to the school.

Camille Anniversary Program: Rick Becka's Experience and Photos

Saturday, August 18 ~ 1:00-4:00 pm (3 repeated presentations) ~ Oakland Museum

Highlighting an untold story of Hurricane Camille's impact on the people and land of Nelson County, the program featured a special presentation by Rick Becka of Johnson City, Tennessee. Becka recalled his personal engagement in Camille recovery efforts during the last weeks of August 1969. Included in his presentation were photos that he took at the time and which he discovered 42 years later.


At the time of Hurricane Camille, Rick Becka had just completed courses at East Tennessee University for his BS degree—both in Meteorology and Geomorphology—under Professor Dr. Don Poole. He was preparing to go the University of Pittsburgh to work on a master's degree when Poole encouraged him to accompany him to Virginia and study what happened in Nelson County. The two men arrived in Nelson shortly after the disaster. Even though Becka brought his camera with him, there was little time for study or for photos, as he and Poole offered assistance to many suffering people. They found it rewarding to be able to provide help where it was needed. He has never forgotten the many fine people he came to know in Nelson in those days. As the recovery progressed he was able to take more pictures but what he and Poole saw and experienced for the most part was never captured by them on film.

When Becka returned to Tennessee, he changed his mind about graduate school and joined the U.S. Air Force. He put the Nelson photos away and embarked on a military career that over the years engaged him in other important recovery work. Last year a friend encouraged Becka to look for the pictures he put away in 1969 and Becka was surprised to be able to find them. He gave the photos to Tommy Stafford, editor and publisher of Nelson County Life, who in turn donated them to Oakland's Camille Resource Center

General Sheridan's James River Campaign: A Civil War Program

Saturday, June 23 ~ 1:30 pm ~ Oakland Museum

Author Richard Nicholas spoke on Union General Philip Sheridan's devastating James River campaign of 1865 in Central Virginia, telling the story of the only significant action of the Civil War that occurred in this area along the north side of the James River. In the last month of the Civil War Union general Philip H. Sheridan led 10,000 cavalrymen against no opposition through Albemarle, Nelson, and surrounding counties on a raid that was originally intended to destroy military installations and Confederate property. Railroads in the area, bridges, and the James River and Kanawha Canal were damaged, but as in all wars, the countryside and innocent civilians were also devastated. The Courthouse in Lovingston and numerous homes in Nelson County were invaded, property destroyed, livestock either confiscated or killed, barns burned, fences demolished, crops ruined, food and forage of all kinds plundered, and personal possessions stolen. The Cabell family homes along the James River suffered especially severe damage. As a result, while the raid was militarily insignificant and had no impact on the outcome of the war, it had a lasting effect on the people in its path that would endure for generations.

Nicholas is a native of Buckingham County and author of Sheridan's James River Campaign of 1865 through Central Virginia, published this year by Historic Albemarle. A retired geologist, he has a lifelong interest in Virginia history and especially the Civil War.Telling the story of many of the people who suffered through this tragic episode, Nicholas placed seemingly isolated events into the framework of the entire campaign, with reference to contemporary letters, diaries, and journals.

Our Living Rural Heritage: Passing on the Legacy

Saturday, May 19 ~ 1:00–3:30 ~ Oakland Museum

The program was designed to be especially interesting to children and their families.

The Best Hope: Opening of exhibit on the history of Nelson Co. schools

Saturday, April 28 ~ 1:30 pm ~ Oakland Museum

The unveiling of "The Best Hope," a new exhibit on the history of the Nelson County Public School system with special attention to materials used in schools in the 1920s and '30s was marked by a program about the exhibit and the county's schools. It included remarks by Janice Kennedy, the great-niece of Elizabeth Wheeler, on the significance of her great-aunt's memorabilia, and by Dr. Woody Greenberg, whose doctoral dissertation the history of the county's schools forms the basis for the exhibit's panels. School administrators, teachers, School Board members and the Board of Supervisors were especially invited to attend. School Superintendent Roger Collins was also on hand to deliver remarks on the intersection of the past and the future of the public school system.

Gospel—Nelson County Style

Saturday, March 24 ~ 7:30 pm ~ Nelson County High School

Four groups, each performing a distinctive style of gospel music, were on hand to raise money for the Nelson Music Project and the Nelson Heritage Center's Oral History Project. The audience's enjoyment of the concert was obvious from the hand-clapping, arm waving and foot-tapping.

* Faithful Praise, with Tommy Fortune, LaDena Knott and Shari DeLange sang three part-harmonies drawn from their new CD "God's Not Through With You." Fortune is related to former Statler Brothers member Jimmy Fortune and recorded with him in Nashville.

* The Pine Hill Male Chorus brought an electrical rhythmic-inflected form of gospel, characteristic of many African-American gospel groups. Based at Pine Hill Baptist Church in Arrington, the group is celebrating its 18th year of performing. The group includes Donny and Harold Smith, Wayne Irvin, Melvin Perrow, Allen Pernell, Bernard Cobbs and Breece Younger.

* The James River Cut-Ups performed bluegrass gospel music. The group is mainly a family affair with brothers Mike and Kenneth Ponton, and Kimberly Ponton Rhodes joined by Jered Gillispie and Carroll Turner. They play a blend of old-time bluegrass gospel with a modern undertone and old-fashioned family harmonies.

* The Toms Sisters started singing in 1973 as young children under the leadership of their father, the late Matthew William Toms, Sr. They are the second generation of gospel singers in the Toms Family, which hails from Massies Mill. They call their music "food for the soul marked by strong gospel lyrics." Their singing style is mostly a cappella, with internal rhythms and well-blended harmony. The Toms Sisters have shared their ministry through song with many congregations throughout the community, the state of Virginia and beyond.

Funds raised by the gospel event will go towards an exhibit at Oakland Museum celebrating performers, instrument-makers and families who make up the county's unique musical heritage. A portion of the proceeds are also going to the Oral History Center at the Nelson Heritage Center.

Co-sponsors: Michael Hancock, Ameriprise Financial Advisors, Charlottesville (434-220-4671) and Wells Sheffield Funeral Chapel, Lovingston (434-263-5792)

Irish Music and Dancing

Saturday, December 3 ~ 7:30 pm ~ The Nelson Center*

This program featured the King Golden Banshee band playing a variety of traditional Irish music on guitars, fiddles, tin whistles, flutes, and banjos. Also performing were the Irish Music School Dancers and Kim & Jimbo Cary.

In addition, a large collection of railroad artifacts were on display.

Proceeds from this event will benefit Oakland Museum's Nelson Music Project and Clann Mhór, an organization that researches and commemorates the Irish- and African-Americans who labored on the construction of the Blue Ridge Railroad and its four tunnels from 1850 through 1860. The longest of these is the Blue Ridge Tunnel on Afton Mountain.

Oakland Holiday Open House

Sunday, December 11 ~ 2:00-4:00 pm ~ At Oakland

The Oakland Tavern was decorated with traditional holiday greens, fruits and berries. This annual event offered the Historical Society members and guests a time to visit the museum, shop for gifts, enjoy refreshments and music, and visit with friends.

Camille Commemoration

Saturday, August 13, 2011 ~ 1:00-4:00 pm ~ Oakland Museum

The museum dedicated a new exhibit on the Hurricane Camille disaster and its aftermath. With a program honoring several people who helped rescue survivors of the state's worst natural disaster in August, 1969. Bill Flippin, Walter Scott Evans, Eddie Boyd and others described how they rescued people from trees and other locations in Massies Mill, where there was some of the most devastating flooding.

Oakland also unveiled its renovated Camille exhibit, which features eight new panels telling stories of the flood. One panel includes a hand-drawn map of Davis Creek showing the location of every home affected by the flooding and landslides that took 50 lives. There are also two listening stations where visitors can hear first-hand accounts, and the Camille Resource Center with hundreds of photos and videos about the event.

Dick Whitehead, then president of the Oakland Board of Directors, demonstrated a new visual presentation developed by Dr. Jeff Halverson of the University of Maryland-Baltimore on the weather phenomena that caused Camille.

The museum also honored the Nelson County High School class of 1970, which helped support the new exhibit, along with Bama Works, the Smyth Foundation, Barbara and Mark Wheless and others.

Tribute to Curtis Matthews, featuring Curtis, Jimmy Fortune & Others

Saturday, March 19, 2011 ~ 7:30 pm ~ Nelson County High School Auditorium

This special tribute to Curtis Matthews, one of Nelson County's stellar musicians, was an outstanding success.. Performing old time and bluegrass music on the program were many of the musicians who were influenced by Curtis and have played with him, including Jimmy Fortune (formerly with the Statler Brothers), Eddie Witt, David Matthews, Jimbo Cary, Bobby Jennings, the Country Ramblers, the Little Mountain Boys, the Allen Family and Ral Satterwhite.

Co-sponsors: Ameriprise Financial Advisors, Charlottesville, VA (434-220-4671) and Tiger Fuel Company (434-263-5792)

This concert benefited the Nelson Music Project of Oakland Museum and Rapunzel's Further Ado Foundation.

To order a DVD of the concert containing 2+ hours of music, send a $25 check payable to "Oakland" to Oakland Museum, PO Box 474, Lovingston, VA 22949. Include your name, address and phone number. Allow two weeks for delivery.


Copyright © 2005-2016 Nelson County Historical Society

Updated 10 August 2016.