Housed in the oldest structure [ca. 1895] in the resort area of Virginia Beach, Virginia, the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum calls the de Witt Cottage its home. The Cottage is listed on the City of Virginia Beach, Commonwealth of Virginia and National Registers of Historic Places because of its historic importance and lasting integrity.
100 years after the Cottage was constructed, the Back Bay Wildfowl Guild opened the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum to fulfill its mission to preserve, perpetuate and exhibit historic wildfowl artifacts, while promoting interest in the wildfowl arts by exhibiting priceless works of indigenous North American wildfowl arts and offering visitors the opportunity to see carvers in action. Adjacent to the Cottage are the Boathouse and Virginia Beach’s first public library [ca. 1930]. The library relocated to the Museum grounds in 2001. With its oceanfront setting and parklike grounds, the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum is the Gem of the Oceanfront and seeks to further educate our visitors and the citizens of Hampton Roads: “America’s First Region” that Our Heritage Is Our Legacy.
This postcard is from the 1930s-1940s. The Cottage does not look quite like this anymore!
In 1974 Fletcher Bryant, Jim Cooke, Bill Dekker and Lee Scarborough, while returning from the World Carving Competition in Salisbury, Maryland, discussed the possibility of having a similar event in Virginia Beach that would show our wildfowl art, carvings, artifacts and photographs.
The sixteen men that showed up for an organizational meeting formed the nucleus of the Back Bay Wildfowl Guild. The group elected Fletcher Bryant as its first president and decided to produce a show to raise funds in order to establish a waterfowl museum in the future. In an attempt to find a suitable facility, the Guild established a Building Search Committee and efforts were launched to find a permanent “home”.
Our break came in 1992 when an article appeared in the newspaper stating that the de Witt Cottage was being purchased by the City and the Virginia Beach Foundation was to be responsible for renovation of the building. The City was undecided on the use of the building. The Guild president, Fletcher Bryant, after reading the article, discussed the idea of a waterfowl museum with several council members and found them receptive.
A curatorial committee was appointed by the Board of Directors of the Back Bay Wildfowl Guild to develop a storyline for the museum, design and supervise construction of all exhibits, and assist the Virginia Beach Foundation with their efforts to convert the 100 year old cottage into a waterfowl museum, gift shop and home for the Guild. After many months of planning, renovating, stocking and collecting exhibit materials, the Guild had its dream come true. We have a home and a museum. The City of Virginia Beach maintains the building, but it is the responsibility of the Guild to administer the gift shop and museum.