By Matt de Simone
The Botetourt Historical Society and Museum (BCHSM) provides visitors a chance to revisit some of Botetourt County’s history through education, exhibits, and activities. The museum’s 57-year history saw a couple of massive changes last year. One of those changes stemmed off of the county courthouse renovation project, causing the museum to successfully find a new home.
Over the next several weeks, The Fincastle Herald will feature interviews with some of the individuals who help make the Botetourt County Historical Museum a must-see destination.
One of the faces seen around the Botetourt County Historical Museum is that of Ann Layman, secretary of the Historical Society and a member of the museum’s Executive Board of Directors.
Ann arrived in Botetourt in 1966, teaching European art history at Lord Botetourt High School. She grew up a “Navy brat,” living all over the country. While living in Groton, Conn., Ann’s father help start up the Submarine Library Force Library & Museum. Over the years, the library has grown immensely.
Through her travels with her family, Ann experienced different cultures in various parts of the country. Eventually, she studied at then-Radford College while living with her parents at Fort McNair National War College in Washington, D.C. Right after college, Ann found herself living in Roanoke, and then eventually living in the Botetourt County seat after meeting her husband, John Allen Layman.
“My family exposed me to a lot of cultural things,” Ann recalled in a recent interview. “When I was 21, I moved to Main Street in Fincastle. I had heard of history, taught European art history, but I didn’t know anything about Botetourt history.”
Ann was impressed with the history of Fincastle and Botetourt County as she began to learn more about the area. She’s a firm believer that it takes an outsider to fully appreciate what a town and its community has to offer. Ann soon got involved in town activities. For example, she spent 10 years helping out with the Fincastle Festival Art Show.
“I was then asked by Emily Honts to go on the Board [of Directors],” she recalled. “Probably around the same time as John Rader.” From there, the rest is Botetourt history.
Ann is involved with the Botetourt Town & Country Women’s Club which is part of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), which consists of more than 60,000 members in affiliated clubs in every state, the District of Columbia, and more than a dozen countries. GFWC members work in their own communities to support the arts, preserve natural resources, advance education, promote healthy lifestyles, encourage civic involvement, and work toward world peace and understanding.
The GFWC has a two-year community improvement project program that encourages members to promote and support art and cultural programs in their clubs and communities, and to expand understanding on every level, from local and regional to national and international.
“Last year, the Women’s Club helped the jail and the Sheriff’s Office—helped Toys-4-Tots and whatever else they needed us to do,” Ann said. “Because the club helped so much with the move, the club voted to work on the museum for two years—last year and this year.”
The Botetourt Town & Country Women’s Club began work on the museum last February by cleaning the rooms, painting the interiors, and preparing the floors for all of the old museum’s artifacts. Additionally, the club’s done various things around town like trash pick-up, landscaping, and decorating a tree on the First Bank Tinsel Trail.
Along with Layman’s active involvement with the Women’s Club, she is also one of the members of an assigned executive committee discussing the plans for a new Botetourt County museum, owned by the county, located in Fincastle—not to be confused with the current Botetourt County Historical Museum on East Main Street.
BCHM has all of their additional materials in climate-controlled storage units that could potentially be used in the new museum, and also rotating in and out of the museum on East Main Street. The old building of BCHM, in the old Breckinridge law offices built in 1861, will be put up on rollers and moved behind the Old Jail this spring. The county hopes to make an “event” out of the move, according to Botetourt Assistant Administrator Jon Lanford.
Looking back, Ann mentioned Joe Buhrman’s legacy with the museum and all of things he did as a charter member of the Historical Society for more than 50 years and founding member of the museum’s Board of Directors. Buhrman, who passed away in 2019, allowed members of the society to go into his home in Gala and pick out artifacts to take back to the museum. Additionally, he left his home to the society, who then sold the home. BCHM used money from the sale to purchase their new home in the old law offices of Rob Hagan on Main Street in Fincastle.
“It was just perfect,” Ann said. “We asked him [what he was going to do with his house] but we didn’t know. Plus, we got to go in the house and pick out the treasures we wanted [for the museum] before it went to auction… it was a lot of stuff. We couldn’t have [bought the museum’s new property] without [the sale of the Buhrman’s house]. We will forever be grateful to him.”
The new, separate museum building planned for Fincastle will be for a new destination also focusing on the entire county’s history and its culture. The language used in the appropriations made by Del. Terry Austin during a House of Representatives 2022 session last year (Item 386 #18h) mentioned a new “Fincastle Museum.” Austin serves as the chairman of the executive committee planning for the new museum. Ann explained this new museum was given that title so that it wouldn’t be constructed outside of the Town of Fincastle.
BCHM remains involved in local school history programs by bringing by artifacts, presentation, and various other activities for students. During the 250th Anniversary celebration, the Historical Society raised money and commissioned Ed McCoy to write “Chronicles of Botetourt County”—a collection of essays looking back on 25 decades examining the county’s history through its people, places, organizations, churches, businesses, and events. The book was donated by BCHM to James River and Lord Botetourt High Schools’ 11th grade history classes.
“We want to do more programs,” Layman added. “We’re trying to work with all the groups—Historic Fincastle, Inc., the Town of Fincastle, Buchanan, genealogy. We do work with all of them.” Ann hopes the museum can host more events in the near future.
She’s excited about the direction of the Botetourt County Historical Society & Museum and remains hopeful that more young professionals take an interest. Ann praises the museum’s Executive Director Lynsey Allie for what she’s put into the museum’s new location and is also appreciative of the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce’s involvement in museum activities.
There are still things that need to be done to BCHM’s new location. Ann remains hopeful that community members will be interested in volunteering their services to help out the museum put the finishing touches on building maintenance. Ann credits Jake Cress in helping refurbish some of the museum antiques over the years, including the museum’s front door and bookshelves.
To learn more about the Botetourt County Historical Society & Museum, visit bothistsoc.wordpress.com/. The museum is located at 26 East Main Street in Fincastle and is open to the public Monday thru Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Sundays from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m.