New Year, New Life for Loudoun Museum

Loudoun Museum is bidding adieu to the calamity of 2018, and welcoming 2019 with its reopening, as well as its first new exhibit in some time.

There is also a new face at the center of the museum’s rebirth—Executive Director Joseph Rizzo, who joined the museum in November. Just two months on the job, Rizzo has filled his initial weeks at the museum as a jack-of-all trades, doing everything from researching and gathering artifacts for the new exhibit, as well as getting his hands dirty with drywall and museum maintenance.

“It’s been a busy couple of months. A lot of progress has been made,” he said.

Signs of progress have evaded the museum leaders in recent years. Last May, the museum’s board of trustees terminated its former executive director and saw the remainder of its staff resign by July. Both the Leesburg Town Council, the museum’s landlord, and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, its main funding source, spent the past few months receiving assurances from the board of trustees that the museum would reopen and reinvent itself for the future.

This week, it starts that journey.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the doors to the museum will open again, with a lecture and book signing by historian Peter Carmichael serving as the kick-off to the new exhibit. Carmichael, professor of Civil War Studies and director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, will discuss his new book, “The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought and Survived in Civil War Armies.” Preceding the lecture, from 5-6 p.m., attendees may preview the museum’s new exhibit—“Caught in the Maelstrom of Civil War: Loudoun County Divided.”

The exhibit will focus not just on the war, but the Civil War era as a whole in Loudoun County, Rizzo said. While that history has always garnered a high level of public interest, “we’re missing telling the story of the county during the Civil War,” he said. The exhibit will feature in-depth reports on the decisions and vantage points of a large swath of the community in Loudoun during the Great War—men, women, enslaved and free black people—with a collection of objects that support the museum’s interpretation.

Rizzo is hoping that this first exhibit, as well as those in the future, will encourage the public to think critically about the subject at hand.

“With any exhibit and any museum you want people to feel connected to it, to see connections to concerns in their own lives,” he said.

Going forward, Rizzo is hoping to display more of the museum’s expansive collection, much of which has been out of the public eye and in storage, and frequently change exhibits to encourage the visitors to keep coming back. Lectures and gallery talks will be scheduled to support museum activities, Rizzo said.

“In the long-range plan, what we really want to do is put a permanent exhibit in that covers the county’s history. This is the initial kick-off to it, to really set a different direction for the museum,” he said.

It’s been a one-man show since Rizzo came on board, but the museum recently hired a part-time staff member to go through the museum’s vast collection. He is hoping to add one more part-timer to support museum operations.

The museum initially will be open Fridays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but Rizzo said plans are to expand those hours by spring.

For more information on Loudoun Museum, go to The museum is located at 16 Loudoun St. SW.

Those interested in attending the Jan. 24 lecture are encouraged to register in advance for the free event by calling 703-777-7427.

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