Tag Archives: Historic Preservation

Menokin’s recreated slave dwelling wins award for architectural excellence

  • This article is copied in full from the Free Lance-Star
  • The Remembrance Structure, an outdoor classroom on the grounds of the Menokin Foundation near Warsaw, has won an AIA Virginia 2018 Award for Excellence in Architecture.

    AIA Virginia is a member of the Society of the American Institute of Architects. Its Awards for Excellence in Architecture honor Virginia architects’ works that are no older than seven years, contribute to the built environment, and are clear examples of thoughtful, engaging design.

    Architect Reid Freeman based what was originally called the Ghost Structure on archaeology, 18th-century timber framing techniques, and examples of similar slave dwellings in the region that still survive. The framework is covered only by a transparent fabric that diffuses shade. At night, solar-powered lighting creates a paper lantern effect.

    A crew of professionals, students and volunteers built the simple structure during a five-day workshop last May. It sits directly over its footprint of the late 18th-century slave dwelling that it re-creates.

    Besides serving as a classroom, the Remembrance Structure is intended to be a memorial to the enslaved workers who worked on Menokin plantation for Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The Menokin Foundation’s African American Advisory Work Group recently renamed the building the Remembrance Structure in honor of the enslaved people who built the original and lived there.

    This year’s Awards for Excellence in Architecture included two Honor Awards, 13 Merit Awards and one Honorable Mention. Award categories include Architecture, Contextual Design, Residential Design, Interior Design and Historic Preservation. Freeman’s design was one of two Contextual Merit Award recipients. The other was Stemann I Pease Architecture’s design for the Historic Farmstead at the American Revolution Museum in Yorktown.

    The awards for contextual design are chosen based on outstanding architecture that perceptibly reflects the history, culture, and physical environment of the place in which it stands and that, in turn, contributes to the function, beauty and meaning of its larger context.

    Community Idea Station WCVE Shines A Light On The Menokin Ghost Structure

    We’d like to thank Inigo Howlett, the Northern Neck correspondent for Community Idea Station WCVE for paying a visit to Menokin to learn more our Ghost Structure Workshop that took place in May.

    His news report aired on May 29th in the Richmond and Northern Neck areas. If you heard the story, or even if you didn’t, do one or all of these things:

    • Listen to it now online.
    • Search “Ghost Structure” on the blog to find related stories and to see more photos.
    • Visit our website to learn more about the Menokin Glass House Project and the important, innovative work taking place here.
    • Come for a visit, take part in a program, or go for a paddle on Cat Point Creek.

    If you like what you see, hear, experience, learn…make a donation!

    Here are some pictures of the completed, glowing Ghost Structure on the Menokin landscape.

    Menokin Ghost Structure: Playing Catch Up



    How sad is it that the crew can build an entire structure faster than I can blog about it and post pictures? Very sad.

    DAY 3 – Wednesday

    The day was made more interesting by the arrival of two groups of horticulture and carpentry students from the Northern Neck Technical Center. Most of the students had never been to Menokin before. I was so pleased to hear many of them say that they “sure didn’t expect it to be like this!”

    In case you didn’t know, May is Preservation Month. The “This Place Matters” campaign was started by the National Trust for Historic Preservation many years ago to bring attention to the importance of historic buildings to local communities as well as visitors and enthusiasts.


    DAY 4 – Thursday

    Raise the Roof takes on a whole new meaning when you see it happening. All the chiseling, measuring, staging and peg making were put to the test with the assembly of the structural timbers and the crown of roof rafters. The beautiful bones of the building are a perfect addition to this vast, cultural landscape.

    Get Floored By The Progress

    The Menokin Ghost Structure: Memoria and Kairos – Day Two

    Day One ended with peg manufacturing in full swing (need 80 total), the grade beams of the structure assembled and the chiseling of the mortise and tenon joints well underway.

    By lunchtime on Day Two, the floorboards were cut and laid. Preparations for the framing of the walls began in anticipation of the vertical beam raising to take place on Day Three. And let’s not forget the fashion show of the Fab Four students voguing their Menokin hats.

    Take a virtual stroll through the pictures and imagine the scent of fresh-cut pine perfuming the air; hear the scrape of draw blades shaping pegs; feel the delicious spring combination of warm sun and cool breeze on your skin and get floored by the progress being made on our newest interpretive tool at Menokin.

    Meet Sam McKelvey!

    The Menokin Foundation Board President Hullihen Moore is pleased to announce that Samuel McKelvey of Richmond, Virginia, has been chosen to lead Menokin as Executive Director. McKelvey, selected after a comprehensive national search, will begin his appointment on October 24, 2016.

    Sam McKelvey

    Moore said that McKelvey is particularly well suited to complete Menokin’s innovative Glass House Project and to introduce new programming to the site. “Sam brings to the table an excellent mix of experience, leadership, initiative and enthusiasm,” Moore said; “he has a track record of bringing in diverse and younger audiences and he has shown himself to be a leader in creating new programs and events to engage the public in broad and meaningful ways.”

    McKelvey currently serves as Site Manager for Meadow Farm Museum at Crump Park, an 1860 living history farm site and museum. During his tenure at Meadow Farm, McKelvey has significantly updated the site’s programs and re-interpreted a number of tours, bringing in new audiences, growing attendance, and making the site relevant to a new generation of students, families, and tourists.

    McKelvey also serves as a Recreation Program Coordinator for the 150-acre site, which rests under the purview of Henrico County’s Division of Recreation and Parks. He has managed and developed a wide range of outdoor opportunities and experiences for the park’s thousands of annual visitors, including fishing, hiking and nature trails, picnicking, play areas, seasonal festivals and, most recently, adding more livestock on the farm.

    McKelvey is an avid champion of community storytelling and bringing history to life. In 2014, he led the planning and execution of a 3-day re-enactment of the Battle of New Market Heights which brought 5,000 people to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle in which African-American soldiers from the “U.S. Colored Troops” won largely on their own their first significant battle close to the Confederate fortifications of Richmond.

    McKelvey received his BA in History and Geography from James Madison University and his MA in History from Virginia Commonwealth University. He currently chairs the Historic Preservation Function Group for Henrico County Recreation and Parks and he has co-chaired or lead numerous other planning committees, including the Henrico Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee.

    He believes Menokin offers the region and the country an extraordinary opportunity. “The Menokin Foundation has laid the groundwork for a totally new approach to engaging people with ideas and themes in American history,” McKelvey said. “The Glass House Project is like nothing else in historic preservation today – it encourages us to think in new and different ways. I am looking forward to working with the board, staff, volunteers, and local community to accomplish the Foundation’s goals. My wife April and I look forward to actively participating in the Northern Neck community.”

    McKelvey succeeds Sarah Dillard Pope, Executive Director from 2005 until December 2015, when she became Dean of College Advancement at Rappahannock Community College. Leslie Rennolds has served ably as Interim Director since January 2016.

    The search committee, co-chaired by Penelope Saffer and Ro King, included trustees and stakeholders: Moore, Dudley Percy Olsson, Candy Carden, Nancy Raybin, and past Board President W. Tayloe Murphy, Jr.

    For the nationwide search, the Menokin Foundation retained Marilyn Hoffman and Connie Rosemont of Museum Search & Reference, an executive search firm in Manchester, NH, and Boston, MA.


    The Menokin Foundation is a 500-acre National Historic Landmark site in the Northern Neck of Virginia that includes the collapsed home of Declaration of Independence signer Francis Lightfoot Lee and his wife Rebecca Tayloe. In 2015, the Menokin Foundation launched a multi-year, $7-million capital campaign to construct a groundbreaking, 21st-century glass structure that will preserve, protect and interpret the original house without reconstructing its 18th-century interior. The grounds and kayak boat launch are open daily 7 am to 7 pm and the Visitors Center is open Wednesday – Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://www.menokin.org or call 804-333-1776.

    The best 2.5 minutes you will ever spend watching a video.

    Have you watched this video? It doesn’t take long. Saving Menokin is important. This video tells you why. (Here’s a hint: there’s something in it for all of us.)

    Menokin Hits the Road to Fredericksburg

    The Menokin Foundation will be hitting the road later this month… Next stop: the University of Mary Washington!

    Please join the Menokin Foundation, in partnership with UMW Libraries and the Center for Historic Preservation, on September 28th for a free lecture, reception, and exhibit opening of The Menokin Foundation: Re-Imagining a Ruin.

    Honorary Menokin Trustee and architectural historian Calder Loth will be speaking at 6:30 pm on the Menokin Glass Project and its relevance and importance in the changing field of Historic Preservation. Following the lecture will be a light reception and viewing of the new Menokin exhibit in the Hurley Convergence Center Gallery. The event is free to attend. To RSVP, visit Menokin.org/Events or call (804) 333-1776.

    The Menokin exhibit in the Convergence Gallery will feature a timeline of the Menokin Glass project, from concept and planning to stabilization and enclosure. Visitors will see the most current renderings of the structure and enjoy a photo essay of Menokin’s archaeological artifacts. This exhibit will be on display September 28th through December 18th.

    Click on the image to RSVP for the Lecture.
    Click on the image to RSVP for the Lecture.

    Smashing Glass Tour!


    On June 13th, Mrs. Smith’s 11th Grade Advanced Placement History  class from Richmond County High School visited Menokin as guinea pigs to test out a new tour style being developed here: a Smashing Glass Tour!

    The students participated in a dynamic tour which integrated the use of smart phone technology, social media, and physical activity.  They learned about Francis Lightfoot Lee and the history of Menokin, architecture and building trades.

    For an activity, we practiced some of the things we discussed about architecture by first working in teams to build structures with blocks.  And then…oh yes, body building- making architectural forms out of humans.

    Of course, after all the fun, we still had time to take a selfie with Frank.

    17_selfie with Lee

    The Menokin Visitor’s Center has new Hours of Operation, which now include scheduled times for guided tours.


    Wed | Thurs | Fri:  10 am – 4 pm
    Sat: May – September: 12 pm – 4 pm

    Sun | Mon | Tues

    Wed: 11 am and 2 pm
    Thurs: 2 pm and 6 pm
    Fri: 11 am and 2 pm

    (Paid tours available by appointment; some restrictions apply.)


    Email Alice to schedule a special Smashing Glass Tour.

    Bucket List – Visit to Bacon’s Castle

    If woodwork could talk, the Menokin collection could write a novel.

    Menokin Trustee, Calder Loth and former Development Director of the APVA (now Preservation Virginia) Richard Rennolds (my brother-in-law) were instrumental in gaining stewardship of the  woodwork upon locating it in the possession of Edgar Omohundro, the final surviving owner of Menokin, who had removed it for safekeeping.

    Peanut barn
    Peanut barn

    The peanut barn at Bacon’s Castle sheltered Menokin’s paneling from the weather for several decades, until it returned home in the early 21st century. The location was chosen because the aforementioned Richard Rennolds had lived at Bacon’s Castle for a number of years as an APVA employee and was able to make the arrangements.

    So, a visit to Bacon’s Castle has long been on my bucket list, as well as the “Must See” list of the intrepid ladies of Menokin. Fortunately for me (not so much for the other ladies) I was finally able to make the trip, as it coincided with a Mother’s Day trip to Williamsburg.

    Ferry ride across the James
    Ferry ride across the James

    The ferry ride across the James from Jamestown to Surry County hasn’t changed all that much in the 30+ years since my last ride as a college student. The boats are bigger and there a few more of them, but the lines are still long and the view is still spectacular.

    staircase from top floorEveryone has their version of a ghost story, as Bacon’s Castle is known to be haunted. Even my husband chimed in with a few from the nights he had spent there with his brother’s family.  Luckily no hairs were raised on this visit. But the winding stairwell from the first floor to the garret rooms on the top floor ended in bloodstained floorboards that always reappeared despite vigorous scrubbing. The boards have been replaced, much to my husband’s disappointment.

    Spinning wheel in a garret room
    Spinning wheel in a garret room

    None of the furnishings are original but there are some period pieces that were curated from England to help tell the story of the house and its inhabitants.

    The brick work and carved paneling are original and ornate. The removal of paint layers revealed children’s drawings on the wall of the what is now affectionately referred to as the “graffiti room.”

    Graffiti Room
    Graffiti Room

    jacobean compass rose
    Jacobean Compass Rose

    This compass rose motif (pictured below) was in the center of exposed beams that frame the ceiling  in more than one of the main level rooms of the house.

    Several original outbuildings still stand in varying degrees of  decay, including some storage barns, a slave cabin and a smoke house. The organic, weathered fabric matches the feel of property and the area, which has weathered many centuries of hard use and neglect. Like Menokin, the exposed structural elements lend authenticity and character to the visitor experience.

    I am so glad that I was finally able to tour this remarkable place and I encourage you to add it to your own bucket list of historic sites to visit. I can’t say that it’s on your way from anywhere to anywhere, but it’s certainly worth the detour.

    Bacon's Castle
    Bacon’s Castle


    Rusty hinge
    Rusty hinge


    Outbuildings behind house.
    Outbuildings behind house.

    View of slave quarters from upstairs window.
    View of slave quarters from upstairs window.

    Detail of hash marks to help hold plaster.
    Detail of hash marks to help hold plaster.










    Menokin weathered the storm. This time.

    I’m sure you have all heard the news about the devastating tornadoes and thunderstorms that ripped through our area yesterday. We are all still reeling as reports and pictures of the destruction are starting to circulate.
    Menokin was spared, and for that we should all be grateful. But it was truly divine intervention, because at nearby Naylor’s Beach eight houses were destroyed. That’s only about four miles from Menokin as the crow flies.

    Tornado destruction at Naylor's Beach near Menokin
    Tornado destruction at Naylor’s Beach near Menokin

    It also passed over the dump on Newland Road which is probably less than a mile away.

    Tornado touched down less than a mile from Menokin
    Tornado touched down less than a mile from Menokin

    As we go about our important work of saving Menokin, we are informing people how dire the situation is, and how one large weather event could demolish the house. Last night’s tornado drives home that point. We must redouble our efforts to get Menokin stabilized and protected. We may not be so lucky next time.

    Too close for comfort. This large cedar tree lost half it's volume. For scale reference, I was able to drive my car through the opening.
    Too close for comfort. This large cedar tree lost half its volume. For scale reference, I was able to drive my car through the opening.

    Tragic beauty
    Tragic beauty

    Scaffolding and bracing are all that is keeping Menokin standing. Large cracks continue to grow.
    Scaffolding and bracing are all that is keeping Menokin standing. Large cracks continue to grow.