Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Amazement Square is a children’s discovery museum offering nine galleries of hands-on STEM and arts-focused exhibits for visitors of all ages. The vision for Amazement Square dates back to 1992, when a committee of the Junior League of Lynchburg was formed for the purposes of evaluating the city’s need for a children’s museum facility.
The following year, a nonprofit organization called Amazement Square was formed to oversee the museum project, and in 1995, the organization acquired the city’s historic J.W. Wood Building, a Civil War-era Greek Revival structure formerly used as a warehouse and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A $7.8 million capital campaign was embarked on to renovate the building, which transformed the abandoned 29,000-square-foot structure into a modernized facility. The museum’s signature LynchBugs mascots were developed following ethical disputes over what to do about the building’s former use and signage as an insecticide warehouse, and today, the mascots are used as a symbol to represent healthy, respectful attitudes toward all forms of life. In 2000, the museum was named the Rightmire Children’s Museum in honor of leading donor Maylia G. Rightmire, and in March of 2001, the museum was officially opened to the public. The museum’s name was later changed to Amazement Square to mirror the name of its governing nonprofit organization. In 2011, the museum welcomed its one millionth visitor during its 10th anniversary celebration.
Today, Amazement Square is one of the leading children’s museums in the country and has been a recipient of a number of regional and national museum awards, including the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor awarded to American museums. Other major awards received by the museum include the MetLife Foundation and Association of Children’s Museums Promising Practice Award, the Association of Children’s Museums International Universal Design for Learning Award, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers’ Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Award, presented for its Amazing Adventures of Scorpy Bug mascot programming. As a major cultural organization within the Lynchburg community, the museum is dedicated to presenting exhibit and event programming connecting the city’s history with age-appropriate appreciation for the arts, sciences, and nature.
The museum is housed within the historic J.W. Wood Building, which served a key role in the American Civil War and was formerly used as a warehouse throughout much of the 20th century. The building is noted for its 19th-century Greek Revival architectural features, including its unique cast-iron facade on its first floor, the oldest surviving example of its kind in the city. Notable design features within the facade include Corinthian pilasters and capitals, high-relief cartouches, and an entablature with a modillion cornice. The building’s facade and exterior have been restored to their original historic condition, with interior areas converted into a modernized museum facility.
Four floors of exhibits are presented within nine galleries, focusing on interactive activities exploring STEM, arts, and nature principles. Visitors of all ages are encouraged to engage in hands-on play with young children and to explore the interconnected principles between culture, science, nature, and the arts and humanities. Major exhibit areas include the museum’s signature Amazement Tower climbing structure, one of the tallest of its kind in the country. Four floors and a rooftop area of climbing activities are offered, including a zipline, tunnels, ladders, and slides. Active play activities are also offered in the Raceways and Voltageville exhibit, which allows visitors to explore physics concepts with a number of games and races.
Health concepts are introduced at the Centra Gallery and League of Healthy Heroes exhibits, which use the museum’s insect mascots to take young visitors on a battle against junk food villain characters. The Emmy Lou Thompson Big Red Barn play area teaches children about farm life, with a milkable cow, climb-aboard tractor, and an interactive farmer’s market play area. Other civic areas are explored in the Once Upon A Building exhibit, which allows young visitors to work as amateur urban planners and construction workers. The area’s social and cultural history is explored in the On the James exhibit, which recreates a miniature 19th-century batteau boat, and a Native American Gallery, which explores the cultures of the Monacan, Lakota, and Pueblo indigenous people. Several exhibit areas focus on arts and performing concepts, including the Kaleidoscope Gallery, the Art of Acting stage area, and the Imagination Studio. A Shipwreck Cove exhibit also offers safe play experiences for visitors three and under.
Ongoing Programs and Education
In addition to standard visitor admission, group rates are available for small groups and organizations with 10 or more visitors, including curriculum-incorporated field trip experiences for elementary school groups. A wide variety of museum programming is offered, including weekly World of Wonders, Art Expeditions, STEAMpowered Workshops, and Mindfulness in the Museum programs. A variety of school outreach and scouting programming is also offered, including in-classroom workshops, special needs populations programming, and overnight experiences for scouting groups. Annual museum events include a Star Wars Day, a Riverfront Chalk Festival and Art Contest, an Ugly Bug Ball, and a Children’s Holiday Festival. Periodic Museum After Dark events also invite visitors ages 21 and older to the museum for adults-only play nights featuring live entertainment and adult beverages.
27 9th St, Lynchburg, VA 24504, website, Phone: 434-845-1888