Spring has finally sprung in Loudoun—the perfect time to blow the dust off a beloved but sometimes overlooked downtown Leesburg institution. With a prime location and new leadership, the Loudoun Museum is moving into its 50th year with a renewed mission to bring Loudoun’s history alive for residents and visitors in engaging new ways.
The woman brought on to restore and refresh the nonprofit is Leslie Mazeska, well-known for her five-year stint as head of the Loudoun Literacy Council. Mazeska and her growing team are working to make the museum is a relevant and a vibrant part of downtown Leesburg’s booming food and culture scene.
“We definitely want to breathe new life into everything,” Mazeska said. “I’m really excited to be with the museum because I feel like we can be a part of the whole revitalization of downtown Leesburg.”
Mazeska, who came on board in May of last year, is the driving force behind the museum’s first major new exhibit in almost a decade. The new “April Showers, May Flowers, Summer Harvests: Loudouners and Their Gardens” exhibit is timed with the hugely popular Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival this weekend. The museum will open its doors to the public April 21 and 22 after a six-week hiatus for renovations.
The new show focuses on Loudoun gardens and agriculture over the decades and includes photos from Balch Library’s collection highlighting gardens all over the county, along with garden-themed quilts, clothing and other artifacts. And that focus on the theme of growth meshes perfectly with the museum’s revival, generated by renewed support from county leaders along with a commitment to become self-sustaining through increased—and more creative—fundraising.
“We are hitting our benchmarks to ramp business back up and create a space that really and truly will bring history to life for the community,” Mazeska said.
Last fall, museum staff and board members rejoiced as the nonprofit met fundraising and organizational goals set up as part of a memorandum of agreement with the Loudoun Board of Supervisors to allow it to hang onto vital county funding. Mazeska has since brought on a new programming director to help achieve her goal of drawing in new visitors—and new members.
Mazeska is getting support from a dynamic new board of directors made up of Leesburg-area business leaders with a common goal of helping the museum become an integral part of a vibrant downtown Leesburg. And in the interest of preserving institutional knowledge, the museum also has a six-member program advisory board, made up largely of former board members and longtime volunteers.
The museum, which includes a historic building at the corner of Loudoun and Wirt streets, along with a charming log cabin next door, has the perfect spot downtown. But for years, the organization was stuck in a programming rut and struggled financially as it operated with a volunteer board and bare bones administrative staff.
Last year, one of the county supervisors’ requirements to get the museum back on track was the hiring of an executive director. And the energetic Mazeska, who was brought on board in May 2017, appears to have been an ideal choice. Mazeska, a native of upstate New York, worked in development at a series of schools and nonprofit organizations in the northeast and DC area before taking the reins at the Loudoun Literacy Council in 2012. Mazeska was living in West Virginia with her husband and three children when she took that position but soon fell in love with Loudoun and decided to put down roots in the county. The family now lives near Waterford.
“I love Loudoun County. … I’ve worked in downtown Leesburg for six years and I’ve seen such a change. … It’s been really fun to watch so much come in,” Mazeska said. “This is such a great area—there’s so much at our fingertips.”
The museum, which has operated as a nonprofit since 1969, is chock full of potential, with its historic main building, courtyard and restored log cabin annex. That log cabin, which routinely pulls in visitors strolling through downtown Leesburg, was slated for demolition in the ’60s, Mazeska said, but was saved thanks to research that showed it was a historic silversmith’s shop and part of the original 18th century footprint.
Mazeska’s plan to capitalize on the museum’s plum location with high-quality programming and fun events is already rolling. She and her team are planning monthly Friday Fireside events (timed with Leesburg’s First Friday celebrations), monthly children’s activities timed with Leesburg’s Family Fun Saturdays every third Saturday and a new monthly lecture series, Way Back Wednesdays, on the final Wednesday of each month. All of the museum’s activities for May have a World War I theme, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the end of the war this year. Museum events include an evening of World War I songs Friday, May 7; a poppy-making craft for kids Saturday, May 19; and a lecture from historian Rich Gillespie on Loudoun during WWI on Wednesday, May 30, at 7 p.m.
“We’re trying to work a plan that incorporates more of an element of fun and not just come and look at things,” Mazeska said.
For now, the museum will continue to offer regular Friday, Saturday and Sunday hours in addition to special events. But Mazeska said plans are in the works to expand to regular Monday hours. She and her team are also developing a plan to revive the museum’s once-active school and scout group programming that had fizzled in recent years and will eventually open its doors to groups during the week.
Mazeska and the board of directors will also be working on boosting the museum’s fundraising events, using the very popular Hauntings tours, which offer visitors real-life, historically based but spine-tingling ghost stories every October, as a jumping off point.
Mazeska notes that while bringing on new staff is a goal, she couldn’t do it without a devoted cadre of longtime and new volunteers—after all, those motivated individuals are responsible for running the popular Hauntings event.
“Our volunteers are really excited that we’re going to be doing more programming and getting back out into schools,” Mazeska said. “It’s exciting to see that we have all these dedicated people who love the museum and they’re like, ‘Let’s go!’”
Loudoun Museum’s Grand Reopening
10 a.m.-5 p.m. April 21
1-5 p.m. April 22
16 Loudoun St. SW, Leesburg
Admission for opening weekend is free. Ongoing admission is $3 for adults, $1 for students, teachers, seniors, active duty military and children 4 and younger are free.