Francis Land House World War II Exhibit

The Virginia Beach Historic Houses Foundation is exploring the opportunity to provide a temporary exhibition about World War II at the Francis Land House. This would include a three- to five- year, house-wide, temporary interactive exhibition about the Francis Land House and its occupants during World War II. This endeavor aims to build our knowledge about the home and our understanding of its changing and important role in local history. It will focus on telling local stories, soliciting collection items from our citizens, and providing an opportunity to bridge our local history to things happening across the nation and world during that time.

This project will also:

  • Allow vast opportunities for partnership and collaboration within our community.
  • Develop the historical interpretation of the house in concert with Virginia Beach City Public Schools staff, so the plan fully meets teachers’ and students’ curricular needs.
  • Look at a popular time and topic in American history.
  • Display the entire Francis Land House, including the currently office-occupied third floor.

Potential components of the exhibit include:

  • Exhibiting Local History: The proposed World War II exhibit will include traditional display cases. These exhibits will explore the ways our local story intersected with the War, including:
    • Life on the home front in Princess Anne County
    • The experiences of Lindsay DeFrees, who grew up in the Francis Land House and served in the U.S. Army during World War II
    • The significance of Princess Anne County farms to the war effort
    • The growth of military installations in Hampton Roads, including the military’s use of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront during the War
    • The Double-V Campaign: African Americans and World War II
    • Camp Ashby and the German POWs who worked in Princess Anne County and Norfolk

  • Expanded Exhibits: Visitors have wanted to go beyond the velvet stanchion rope on the stairs for years; with the proposed World War II exhibit, they will finally have the opportunity. The third floor of the historic house will be opened for visitors to explore more about the home during World War II. Proposed plans for the upstairs area include bedroom spaces, a bathroom, and an expanded changing exhibits space in the already existing rooms.This expanded area for changing exhibits will enable us to rotate travelling exhibits and create new exhibits with collections from partnering institutions. This will allow visitors to learn how living on the home front while supporting the war effort affected Princess Anne County and Norfolk communities as well as provide visitors with a new learning experience with each changing exhibit.
  • Interactive Exhibits: Many visitors look for an immersive experience when visiting a historic site. The proposed exhibit will rid the museum of the traditional “Do Not Touch” signs and allow visitors to fully interact with objects throughout the house. This plan would include vintage and reproduction furniture, clothing for visitors to try on, recipe suggestions for visitors to take, and much more. Visitors to the home won’t just tour the house, they will experience it. To round out an immersive experience, depending on when a visitor comes, the house will change to reflect that period. Imagine visiting the historic house on June 6th to hear music on the radio suddenly cut out, only to be replaced with a news broadcast reporting the Invasion of Normandy or visit during the Christmas season to see the halls decked in preparation for Saint Nicholas’ arrival.
  • Local Stories, Real People: Learn about life during World War II from the people who served in the military and on the home front. The proposed exhibit will use oral histories and personal accounts—letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and even artwork—to explore the experiences of residents of Princess Anne County, Virginia Beach, and Norfolk during World War II.Members of the community will have the opportunity to contribute their family stories through oral history interviews. Museum staff will scan family photos and documents shared by the community and create an electronic archive of our shared local history.
  • Curriculum-Based Interpretation:
    Instead of defining a historical interpretation first and then developing educational programs, the Virginia Beach Historic Houses Foundation proposes an innovative approach with its World War II plans. Our emphasis will be on learning objectives, instead of the traditional focus of seeking to recreate an exact representation of the home at the time the DeFrees family lived here.In collaboration with the Virginia Beach City Public Schools and other educational advisers, museum staff will create an interpretation that meets curricular needs first. The house will be furnished accurately for the period, but every choice will be guided by the question, “What will visitors learn?”

    • Virginia Standards of Learning Related to World War II Home Front Exhibit:
      • USII.7    The student will apply social science skills to understand the major causes and effects of American involvement in World War II by:
        • c) Explaining and evaluating the impact of the war on the home front.
      • VUS.11 The student will apply social science skills to understand World War II by:
        • d) Evaluating and explaining how the United States mobilized its economic and military resources, including the role of all-minority military units (the Tuskegee Airmen and Nisei regiments) and the contributions of media, minorities, and women to the war effort
        • f) Evaluating and explaining the treatment of prisoners of war and civilians by the Allied and Axis powers.

Potential educational programming:

  • Rationing and self-sufficiency in wartime (USII.7/VUS.11)
  • Preparedness, vigilance, and xenophobia after Pearl Harbor (USII.7)
  • Managing the message: war propaganda, including comics and posters (VUS.11)
  • The Double-V Campaign: African Americans in World War II; an opportunity for collaboration with veterans and other alumni from Princess Anne County Training School (VUS.11)
  • Living sources: interviewing veterans and other witnesses to World War II from our community (VUS.11)
  • Exploring the changing roles of women (VUS.11)