Last week was a busy one for many of the consultants for The Menokin Project as well as the Menokin staff.
Cultural Consultants Darren Barker and Liza Rogers from Barker Langham arrived from London late Sunday and we all headed off bright and early Monday morning on a field trip of regional museums. Our goal was to observe the interpretation methods being practiced by other institutions as a way of helping Barker Langham hone plan’s for Menokin’s vision, programmes (Oops, I mean “programs.” Too much time with the Brits!) and business plan.
First stop was Kenmore in Historic Fredericksburg, VA. Built by George Washington’s sister Betty Washington Lewis and her husband, Fielding Lewis, this beautiful, Georgian-style, brick mansion reflects the pre-Revolutionary-War wealth and status of the Fredericksburg merchant.
Owned and operated by The George Washington Foundation, Kenmore has, over the years, transformed itself from a decorative arts museum to one that represents a more historically accurate, 1775-1800 appearance. Most notable are the ornate plaster ceilings in the downstairs rooms.
Team member Ward Bucher of Bucher/Borges Group was also in attendance. Their firm is preparing a Historic Structures Report for Menokin that is not only identifying which elements in our collection of stone and structural timbers are available for inclusion in the restored Menokin structure, but also organizing and cataloging the massive amount of research and conservation information that has been performed and collected at Menokin over the years.
We were lucky enough to get access to Kenmore’s attic, where Ward gave a brief lesson on 18th-century roof framing, comparing Menokin’s system with Kenmore’s, the differences between which, as it turns out, maybe have accelerated the eventual collapse of Menokin’s roof.
The massive size of these timbers gives renewed respect for the craftsmen who hewed, lifted and joined them together. No small job. And no degrees in engineering!
Next stop was nearby Ferry Farm, also owned and operated by the George Washington Foundation. All that remains of Washington’s boyhood home is the footprint of the house. The foundation is in the process of re-establishing the the landscape around Ferry Farm, including building an interpretive reconstruction of Ferry Farm on top of the footprint.
The afternoon was spent at Stratford Hall, boyhood home of Frank Lee. Probably the most famous site in the Northern Neck, Stratford’s interpretation program is constantly changing to keep up with ongoing research and information about the Lees and the house as these are revealed. Part of the future vision for Stratford includes a new visitor center that will triple in size on the same site, to combine teaching and collection interpretation. Abby Newkirk, director of interpretation, led us on a detailed tour of the visitor’s center and the house, pointing out those parts of their exhibits that will change and why.
The day concluded with a trip to the grocery store for food and other sustenance to refresh for Tuesday’s activities.