By Matt de Simone
The Botetourt Historical Society and Museum (BCHS) provide 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 History Museum a must-see destination.
Ed Holt is name that is synonymous with the Botetourt County Historical Society & Museum due his family’s history with the organization. Holt grew up in Botetourt, graduating from Lord Botetourt High School and then from William & Mary with a Master’s in business. After living away from the area for many years, Holt and his wife moved back to Botetourt in 2015 from the Atlanta suburbs in Georgia soon after Holt retired.
“History” is a word Holt recalls hearing often from members of his family, namely, from his grandfather, Robert Douthat Stoner. Holt jokes about knowing a lot about Botetourt by proxy based on conversations he heard between his father and grandfather.
“I heard history discussed at the dining room table growing up,” Holt remembered during a recent interview. “My dad and my granddad were always fascinated with things they would find in the courthouse. For example, there was a court order from 1770 excusing a gentleman from jury duty because he lived on the west side of the Ohio River. Now, to be on the list to be called for jury duty means he would have been on the active voter list. So, he had at least, at one time, stopped here, registered, and voted [although the gentleman] was from Ohio.
“I heard all the history growing up and things [going on] in the courthouse. People will talk about history. I know things that I don’t even know that I know, if that makes sense.”
After years of learning about Botetourt’s history from his family, Holt continues maintaining his family’s legacy with BCHS. Recently, Holt was a part of the decision-making process moving the museum out of the old Breckinridge Law Office (scheduled to be physically moved within the new Botetourt County Courthouse Square in the spring) and into the new location in the former Hagan Law Offices on E. Main Street.
Holt understands those responsible helping to keep the museum active in sharing the history of Botetourt County.
“One of the things a lot of people don’t know [about the museum] is that we pay our docents and our executive director. The lifeblood of the museum and the society is volunteer help.”
On Sundays, the Botetourt County chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) manages the museum voluntarily.
Holt’s ties to the museum and society’s inception can be found from the organization’s beginning. Bess Stoner, founding regent of the Botetourt Chapter of the DAR and Holt’s mother’s aunt, was also a founding member of the society. She was one of the two of the society’s founders Holt descends from, along with Holt’s grandfather. Holt’s wife, Betty, is currently a proud member of the Botetourt County Chapter of the DAR.
Robert Stoner wrote “A Seed-Bed of the Republic”—a book that documents the early history of Botetourt County often used in research of the area’s history. As a child, Holt helped put together the index of his grandfather’s book. The Historical Society was initially funded by sales of “Seed-Bed” years ago.
Robert was Clerk of the Court in Botetourt from 1939-60 and Holt’s father, George Holt, assumed the role from 1960-91. George was one of the head lobbyists for the Virginia Courts Clerks Association. Through connections with the state Supreme Court, General Assembly, and the Library of Virginia in Richmond, Botetourt County was one of the two pilot counties preserving their records in a digital format during the 1970s and 80s, which is why so many records of Botetourt history can be found in the Library of Virginia.
Holt’s ancestors, the Ammens, who arrived in America in the 1780s, were farmers and weavers. The Ammens operated a woolen mill in Fincastle. The weaved clothes and blankets, Confederate uniforms, and other goods. They were followed by the Stoners (Holt’s mother was a Stoner), who arrived in 1801. They operated Stoner Store in Bonsack. When the railroad made its way through the area, the Bonsacks, who were intermarried with the Stoners, donated the land for the depot.
His great-grandfather, Kent Stoner, was born in Botetourt in 1839 right on the Botetourt-Roanoke County line. Soon, Holt’s grandfather Robert’s family made their way to Fincastle, where his great-grandmother’s family lived. They ran a store out of Fincastle next door to the original Bank of Fincastle building on Main Street. Holt’s great-uncle built the first post office in Fincastle.
Another interesting note is that upon returning from the Civil War, Holt’s great-grandfather would barter country hams on consignment and haul them up to Baltimore to merchant houses, and then return to the store with new items or whatever else was needed at the time.
Holt’s fascination with Botetourt history started with his grandfather, Robert, and continued with his father, George. Following the courthouse fire in December 1970, the society put together a collection of items to send up to Richmond. Holt fondly remembers going through those items with his father years ago.
“One of the things [the county] sent [to Richmond] that survived the fire—something I was always intrigued with as a teenager but my father said, ‘Put it back, don’t touch it,” Holt recalled. “There was a bundle of papers—old brittle papers in a string entitled, ‘Things That Was But Ain’t Now, 1863.’ That’s always intrigued me.”
Holt wants to continue the legacy his family helped build for the historical society and museum. Over the last year, the society purchased the new building located at 26 E. Main Street. Now, the organization must account for all of the expenses that come with being a “homeowner.”
“The society has received money and support from the county,” Holt noted. “That has gone traditionally to help us pay for a quarter of our expenses. On April 19, the society is participating in ‘Roanoke Valley Gives.’ That raises some money for us. A lot of our money is designated for particular uses. We need to change with the additional expenses because we now own our new location on Main Street. That’s going to be a little bit of challenge. We just have to change our model somewhat.”
Holt is excited for what’s next for BCHS and is enjoying living in Botetourt County.
“It’s just easy to live here,” Holt added. “When we were looking for a place to live [years ago], one of our daughters mentioned that one of the places we would always go back to was Fincastle. She said, ‘It feels like home.’ It’s pretty. It doesn’t have the traffic [of a big city]. I’ve lived north of here and I live south of here—I like the climate. We were welcomed here in the community. I enjoy being on the society board. The great attitudes of the people are a big thing. The scenery is great. I love waking up in the morning and taking a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway—that’s just fabulous.”
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 through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Sundays from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m.