Visiting the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum in Ferrum Virginia

 Dear Henry,

This weekend Fish and I managed to find ourselves in Ferrum, Virginia, and we found one of the funnest little museums. Let me tell you all about it.

Ferrum Virginia is a little village of about 2,000 people, about 40 miles twisty mountainous miles south of Roanoke. It was founded in 1889 and was mainly established to support the Norfolk and Western Railroad (although there were a few farms in the area before the railroad came through). The people in the area were primarily coal miners (for the railroad) and lumber. The site also had a thriving moonshining economy, particularly after Prohibition in 1920 (hard alcohol sales remained illegal in Virginia until 1968).

Surprisingly, though, Ferrum avoided the educational lag most commonly associated with the hill towns of the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1914, with the support of the United Methodist Church, the Ferrum Training School was built on an 80-acre portion of George Goode's farm. 

The school offered the "3-Rs" and agricultural and home economic training but expanded to a junior college in 1926 and a complete college by 1971. However, you could still get a high school diploma from the school until 1954. Ferrum College has now moved into graduate degrees and has a surprising number of degree options, despite its size and location and a robust Division III athletic program. While the college is non-denominational, it has stayed close to its Methodist roots and still requires several course hours in religion and philosophy.

In 1973, Ferrum College opened the Blue Ridge Institute and Musem, which focuses on the folk heritage of the area.  

This free museum was a lot of fun. It had an exhibit featuring the photos, documents, and histories that Dorothy Cundiff (1928-2021), a local historian, had collected. This is a vibrant source of information about the "common" folk, and I really enjoyed the walk through Ferrum's past. The museum also hosts a "History of Souvenirs" exhibit, which contains over 1,000 pieces of kitschy memorabilia that one picks up while traveling (Fish and I personally have a massive collection of shot glasses we picked up on our travels). Finally, there was an exhibit on moonshining, which was a significant source of income for these hill folk, and, I daresay, one of the reasons many of these mountain villages could stay financially solvent. The museum also offers a working antique farm with log cabins, a kiln, and a grumpy rooster.

We had a great time and stopped by the small gift shop on the way out. I picked up the book "100-Proof," written by the local author and son of moonshiners, Henry Lee Law (stay tuned at for the review.) Check out my video tour here:

Unfortunately, we couldn't get another shot glass. The gift shop (oddly) didn't have any of those.

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at, you can also read her book reviews at and US military biographies at

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