Some say it’s haunted – it’s ranked the second most haunted place in Virginia! – but we did not see any ghosts or spirits when we stopped to see the Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum. Maybe because it was a sunny, summer day. Or maybe there were ghosts and we just didn’t see them…
The Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum is located in central Virginia, about two hours southwest of Washington, DC (and one hour northeast of Richmond, Virginia). Today it is a museum but it has had a long and interesting life.
Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum Layout
The three floors of the museum showcase the different phases of the hotel over the years.
- 1st floor – Artifacts and history from the early years of the Exchange Hotel when it was a tavern, train depot, telegraph station, and hotel
- 2nd floor – Civil War medical artifacts and history of the hotel when it was a Confederate receiving hospital
- 3rd floor – Artifacts and history of the hotel when it was a Freedmen’s Bureau Hospital, classroom, and courthouse
- On the grounds- The original tavern kitchen building stands next door and the train depot is also nearby. Both are currently under renovation.
- Central Virginia Railroad tracks run in front of the building
Why is it called The Exchange Hotel?
The site originally hosted the Omohundro Tavern, built in 1840. In 1859, all but one room of the tavern burnt to the ground.
Mr. Omohundro used the opportunity to build a grand hotel in its place so that he could serve even more people. He decided to name it The Exchange Hotel because it is located at a rail hub where passengers were exchanging trains.
Construction of the current building finished in 1860. At the time, it was one of the largest buildings in town.
An Early Review of The Exchange Hotel
Posted inside the museum is a review from a former guest. Dr. George Bagby fell ill during his travels and disembarked the train to rest at the hotel. My favorite part of his review is:
“…the odor of the clean pillow cases was more delicious than roses or lilies, and as I stretched myself out at full length I actually tasted the clean sheets clear down to my toes. You may talk about happiness, but there is no greater happiness than I experienced such as that moment.”– Dr. George Bagby, April 1862
The Exchange Hotel Becomes the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital
The location in central Virginia, near two railroad lines – Virginia Central Railroad and Alexandria Railroad – made Gordonsville a good location for a hotel. That also made it a good location for a wartime Receiving Hospital, especially after General Lee decided that it was dangerous to have a field hospital and supplies so near the enemy lines.
On July 21, 1861, the telegraph office on the first floor of the Exchange Hotel received a message that 100 wounded Confederate soldiers were coming from Manassas and the First Battle of Bull Run to get care and shelter in Gordonsville.
When the train arrived, there were about 1,300 soldiers onboard. Any that were well enough to continue traveling were sent south to Richmond. The rest became the first patients of the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital.
For the next two weeks, trains ran back and forth between Manassas and Gordonsville moving supplies. The portable hospital was set up in what is now the parking lot of the Exchange Hotel and the Confederate Government officially took over the hotel, using it as a receiving hospital.
Over the next three years, about 70,000 troops (mostly Confederate but some Union soldiers as well) were treated at the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital. Most stayed for about three days before continuing south for further treatment at a General Hospital.
This is the only Civil War Receiving Hospital in Virginia that is still standing.
Interesting Civil War Medical Trivia
- Prior to the Civil War, there were no trained nurses. Family members would care for ailing relatives. The massive number of casualties in the war led to the organization and training of volunteer nurses.
- There were no ambulances before the war. Union Major Jonathon Letterman came up with the first dedicated emergency evacuation procedures with a trained staff.
- Prior to the war, only 5% of doctors had seen a gunshot wound or performed surgery.
- Anesthesia, which had been used by dentists since the 1940s, was adopted by wartime doctors and used for surgeries.
- The largest post-war budget expenditures were for prosthetic limbs. Nearly 75% of amputees survived and needed comfortable, effective artificial limbs.
- The practice of triage began during the war.
During Reconstruction, the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital Becomes the Freedmen’s Bureau Hospital
At the end of the Civil War, the Exchange Hotel is transformed once more. The government used confiscated Confederate property to establish schools, hospitals, and courtrooms. Instead of treating wounded soldiers, the building now serves as the Freedmen’s Bureau Hospital, treating newly freed slaves.
The building also served as a Freedmen’s Bureau school and courthouse from 1865 to 1868.
The Exchange Hotel is a Hotel Once More
After the short stint with the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Exchange Hotel was once again a hotel. It hosted many guests until the 1940s when the railroad bypassed Gordonsville and the number of guests declined.
And Finally, a Museum
In 1971, local Gordonsville residents formed Historic Gordonsville, Inc. and purchased the Exchange Hotel property after many years of neglect. It has now been restored to its former glory and welcomes visitors daily!
Look Around the Museum Grounds
Enjoy this video tour on the grounds of the Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum and a summary of what he learned inside.
Fried Chicken Capital of the World
Did you catch the part in the video when he was talking about the Chicken Vendors? In the 1800s, Gordonsville was a major transportation hub for wagons and trains alike.
Trains at the time did not have food cars so when they stopped in Gordonsville, the chicken vendors were waiting to sell them fried chicken, biscuits, and other food.
This story from American University Radio gives more information about the fried chicken waiter carriers.
Another Civil War Historic Site
Living in Virginia, we are surrounded by Civil War history. You can read about Manassas National Battlefield Park here:
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Where else did we go that day?
This museum was just one of many stops during Big Trip 14. Want to see where else we went?