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Style · October 30, 2018

Q&A: She helps make Fauquier history “cool”

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“The number one thing I’ve heard at the museum specifically is that we make history cool,” says Executive Director Erin Clark. “I’ve heard that from kids.”
Decades from now — maybe centuries from now — people will want to know what life was like in 2018, just like today we want to know what life was like in the 1800s.
Erin C. Clark
• Age: 25

• Home: Manassas

• Work: Executive director, Fauquier History Museum at the Old Jail, December 2017-present; education specialist/park interpreter-historian, Sky Meadows State Park, Delaplane, February 2016-December 2017.

• Family: Parents Christine and Patrick; younger brother

• Education: Master’s degree, museum studies, University of Oklahoma, 2018; bachelor’s degree, historic preservation, University of Mary Washington, 2015; Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School, Manorville, N.Y., 2011.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Who says learning about the past can’t be fun, even hip?

Not Erin Clark, executive director of the Fauquier History Museum at the Old Jail in Warrenton.

“The number one thing I’ve heard at the museum specifically is that we make history cool,” says Ms. Clark, who has headed the museum since December. “I’ve heard that from kids.

“And that’s very exciting, because I want them to be excited; I want everybody to be excited about history, especially the history of the county they live in.”

The museum at 10 Ashby St. achieves that through exhibits and programs, explains Ms. Clark, 25.

Last week, it opened an exhibit about a method of grouping inmates new to Fauquier in the 1820s.

Next year, the museum plans an exhibit chronicling the Red Cross’s history in Fauquier, explains the Manassas resident.

> Video at bottom of story

Existing exhibits focus on the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Confederate Col. John S. Mosby of Warrenton and The Black Horse Cavalry, a local Civil War unit.

The museum also features a maximum security cellblock, a Colonial-era kitchen and artifacts from Warrenton businesses.

Ranging far and wide, the museum’s programs include history, architecture and ghost tours, lectures and book signings.

Ms. Clark also launched a popular scavenger hunt.

“It brings them to different (exhibit) rooms and asks them certain questions so that they would have to look deep into the exhibit or into their minds to pull their answers out,” the New York native says.

She also has extended the museum’s reach online.

“We’re having more fun on our social media, with doing different trivia days and doing different guessing games. We might put an artifact up there and ask people to guess what it is, and then tell them the answer later in the day.”

Museum visits also have jumped during Ms. Clark’s tenure.

From January through September, the museum recorded 4,507 visitors — up 30 percent from all of last year. 

Open six days a week, the museum had 3,457 visitors in 2017. 

“My goal has been to have a program every weekend, from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” says Ms. Clark. “People suggest different programs, or show interest in different programs. So, we try to work with that. We try to evolve with the community.”

The full-time director oversees a $60,000 annual budget and supervises one part-time employee and about 30 volunteers, who help staff the museum and gift shop.

The museum’s original brick jail dates to 1808; the stone addition opened in 1823. The jail operated there until 1966, when it moved to a new building at 50 W. Lee St.

• What got you hooked on museums?
When I was in high school and volunteered and worked for the National Park closest to where I grew up — it was the home of one of signers of the Declaration of Independence — I realized that museums could be a career, that museum education is a career and met people that helped me find schools and figure out that part.

We would come down to Virginia and do Jamestown and Williamsburg. I always knew I loved history.

• What did you plan to do after graduating from college?
I wanted to manage a small museum, maybe a historic house museum.

But the Old Jail kind of falls into the same realm, as a historic house museum as well as being a small historic place.

• What makes museums important?
They’re important places for people to come to on their leisure time, or with a field group to experience topics that are important to them.

Every museum has its own mission and its own topic. It’s with that that you’re able to get different experiences — different stories, stories through artifacts — that you aren’t able to get sometimes in a school or a textbook.

Museums are also able to provide a variety of programs that can cater to everybody, from small children all the way up to scholarly, academic people. They’re places that can foster everybody’s passion, but they can also be a place for discussion so people can kind of get to know the topics that interest them.

• Do you have a favorite period of American history?
Colonial and Revolutionary War.

• Why?
I think it goes back to the founding of America — different types of people coming over and creating the nation we have today.

• What’s the future for small museums such as the Old Jail museum?
They have a lot to offer to the community around them — programs and just being a resource.

We have a research library that is open to the public that a lot of people don’t know about. We just ask that you call and make an appointment so that somebody can help you.

• What kind of experience does the Old Jail museum try to create for visitors?
A sense of place, letting people know what came before them, how they can fit into the history of the county and how they’re making history every single day and they may not realize it.

• Why’s that important?
We’re making history every day. Decades from now — maybe centuries from now —people will want to know what life was like in 2018, just like today we want to know what life was like in the 1800s.

• What’s next for the Fauquier Museum?
We’re in a multi-year process of redoing every exhibit in the museum. The museum has eight exhibit rooms. So far, we’ve completely redone two of them.

We’ll always have certain permanent exhibits, but more of our exhibits will rotate. For instance, next we’re going to have an exhibit on the Red Cross and then kind of go from there, as far as specialty exhibits.

• What do you like best about your job?
I work in a really interesting place. Not many people can say they work in — if not Virginia’s oldest jail — one of the oldest jails in Virginia.

And, I get to meet really interesting people every day. Some people are interested in the history, some in our paranormal activities. Every day is not the same.

• What’s the hardest part of your job?
That every day is not the same (laughs), because I wear many hats. I can go from dealing with a (building) maintenance issue to working on the budget to writing grants in the same day.

• Ghosts allegedly occupy the museum building. Do you believe that?
Yes.

• Have you ever seen a ghost here?
Never. But, we hear things from time to time. We have things that have mysteriously moved, and we have no explanation as to how it’s moved or how that noise came to be.

Contact Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-0300.

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