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1003 Electric Rd, Salem, VA • 540-387-9780

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About Big City Getaway

Looking for a simple day trip? Just a neat destination to give you an excuse to ride? We bet some days you are. That is what Big City Getaway is all about. There are great roads and interesting destinations all around. Every month we’ll give you one in Big City Getaway.

The Camera Heritage Museum

1 W Beverley St, Staunton, VA 24401 • 540-886-8535

Funny how things can develop. Yes…bad pun.

Last year we pulled into the small city of Staunton in the late afternoon and we missed getting a chance to take in The Camera Heritage Museum, one of the only museums dedicated to the camera in the United Sates, by just minutes.


That being so, when Backroads made our overnight plans for the Spring Break, I suddenly found myself pushing for Staunton.

Sure there was a great hotel, the Stonewall Jackson, a Shakespeare theatre, an auto museum – not to mention a number of great restaurants – but for me it was about The Camera Heritage Museum.

I have been a camera fan for decades, having owned everything from Kodak instamatics to full size 8 X 10 view cameras. Shira and I met because of photography.

So, stopping into this museum was a must.

There are not many open camera museums in the USA since collections are often private. Collector and camera history maven David Schwartz wanted to change this and has opened his own collection to the public so that everyone has an opportunity to view these historical treasures.

It is amazing.

The Camera Heritage Museum houses a unique collection, over 6,000 strong, of cameras dating from the 19th century to modern times – many of which are antiques, one offs, or very rare and of significant historical provenance. CameraRommel

General Erwin Rommel’s own camera is here next to a photograph of him holding the same.

The Camera Heritage Museum showcases many photographers who have lived in the area. The first photographer in the area practiced his art in 1847, just 9 years after the beginning of photography in Paris. The son of one of the town’s local photographers, Barnett Clinedinst,

became the White House photographer for presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson. They also showcase Washington Star, LA Times, U.S. Senate, Official White House and President Ronald Reagan's personal photographer Bernie Boston.

But, it was the odd and rare cameras that I came to see and was not disappointed.

A Russian spy gun camera, along with an array of miniature spy cameras, a wonderful and fairly complete collection of ‘brownies” and historic oddities such as an 1895 Chelsea Flash Pistol.

This flash pistol enabled a photographer to get extra light for photographs in early photography. The round bowl would hold flash powder, which would be ignited when the trigger was pulled.

There is a Folmer Graflex Baseball Camera, from the 1920’s. This camera was designed for use as a telephoto sports camera. It is 40" long by 22" high, weighing over 30 lbs. This was used back when baseball really was the true national pastime.

David has more Leica cameras in one place than I have ever seen in my life. Outstanding!CameraMovie

There was a camera that probably took more images that you are familiar with than you would know – the Nikon F1 with a huge motor drive from the late 1950s.

All those images from the turbulent 60’s and the Vietnam War and the Beatles were most likely taken with a Nikon F1.

In truth there were far too many cameras to see in a short time.

The one problem with The Camera Heritage Museum is that it is crammed into a rather small space for such a magnificent collection.

The thought I walked away with was that David Schwartz needs a much, much bigger space… and that might happen. The Camera Heritage Museum has the opportunity to acquire the P. Buckley Moss Museum building in Waynesboro. The beautiful building was originally built as a museum, so it would not require a lot of renovation for the museum’s purposes.

Please consider making a difference by contributing to the success of the museum. Because they are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, any monetary donation will be tax-deductible. If you would like to donate to the Camera Heritage Museum, please visit their donations page on their website or send a check to The Camera Heritage Museum, 1 West Beverley Street, Staunton, VA 24401.