James River Batteau Boats
Bedford Public Library System, Bedford, VA
Project Director: Julie Wyatte
Target Audience: Children, Family, Teens
Library Size: 25,000–100,000
“Rivers have always been an important part of American history, from Native American settlements to the first European settlements in the New World. This importance is reflected in the Picturing America gallery; fourteen of the images contain rivers or products derived from rivers [including] examples of rivers in history, art, industry, wildlife and natural resources, and architecture. The James River Batteau Festival is a large event each year and attracts a good bit of local attention, so we were able to take a nationwide concept represented by the pictures (the importance of waterways in the building of our nation) and make it local and personal for our patrons.”
Each year, the Virginia Canals and Navigation Society presents the James River Batteau Festival, where participants float down the James River from Lynchburg, Virginia to Richmond, Virginia over several days, retracing the route and method of tobacco transport during the mid-1700s to mid-1800s in Virginia. The Bedford Public Library System (BPLS) created a living history program, with costumed interpreters describing life on the James River in Virginia in the late 1700’s, and a special focus on the batteau boat, specially designed to carry cargo from the upper James River to Richmond, Virginia. A local historian brought in a re-constructed batteau to each of the six branches of the BPLS, to illustrate to participating children what life was like on board. The boat will be decked out as if it were heading to Richmond 150 years ago. Two guides, in costume, will give a presentation, explaining the history and purpose of the batteau in Virginia as well as in our nation’s history.
Use of the Artwork
The BPLS created a chronological display of Picturing America images that contain rivers (based on date of creation), including: Pottery and Baskets, The Oxbow, American Flamingo, Washington Crossing the Delaware, Looking Down Yosemite Valley, Catlin Painting the Portrait of Mah-ho-toh-pa-Mandan, John Biglin in a Single Scull, The Boating Party, Cover Illustration for The Last of the Mohicans, Brooklyn Bridge (Joseph Stella), Brooklyn Bridge (Walker Evans), American Landscape, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and Fallingwater. The audio files for these items were also made available for participants to listen to both before and after the living history program.
Programs and Ideas
Living history program, featuring a costumed interpreter describing life on the James River in Virginia in the late 1700s. The program featured a re-constructed batteau cargo boat, and was presented to five branches of the BPLS and one local elementary school.
- James River Batteau Festival (http://vacanals.org/batteau/index.html)
- New York State Museum’s “Batteau Discovery” exhibit
This program gave our community a chance to see the library as more than just books and story times. The costumed interpreter was animated and knowledgeable; participants were interested and asked many questions during the program. There was a real interaction between them, both during the history discussion and the time to explore the boat, and they made connections between local events, history and modern culture for attendees. They had the opportunity to learn about the importance of our local history to the history of the nation, and how our life today is built on these past events.