Tag Archives: Virginia

Uncovering History – Tracing the Gordon Family Roots

by Alice French, Menokin Education Coordinator

It’s funny when you work at an historical site how people always assume that because it’s old, all of its past is known and there is nothing new to discover.  Of course, we are famous at Menokin for disproving that year after year and this past year we again learned something new about the people who lived here.

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A few years back, I visited a local senior living facility in Richmond County to give a presentation on Menokin and spoke about how we tell stories. I was interested in developing an oral history program related to our county’s past, and I was looking for a place to begin.  After chatting with the group for a bit, one of the women told us she thought her grandfather, Daniel Gordon, was born a slave at Menokin and then freed under the Emancipation Act.  She is his granddaughter, Evelyn Gordon Parker, still a Richmond County resident, who also writes for the Northern Neck News.  Wow, I thought.  How amazing is that?   She told me she had visited Menokin once before, and a few weeks later, returned with some photographs of her family, including one of her grandfather and grandmother.

Back row: Gordon girls: Elsie, ?, Cornelia, and cousin Margaret Saunders; Front row: Daniel Gordon and wife Maria Wright Gordon

This past winter, I visited with Evelyn and her sister, Juanita Gordon Wells to record and document some of their memories.  Her grandfather has an amazing story, which I shall wait to share in a later post.  But for now, I think the other really cool thing is how we learn about our past.  This man raised his family with very strong values of faith, family and education.  Over the years, the pride and strength of these values were instilled in one generation after another.  And sometimes there are parts of history that are known better within families through oral traditions than are found in courthouse records.  In 2011, The Gordons published a cookbook, recounting their early roots as well as family recipes.

Interviewing Gordon family sisters.
Interviewing Gordon family sisters.

Evelyn’s brother, Thomas Daniel Gordon, was interested in recording the family history and established the first family reunion in 1979.  These reunions continue to grow.  They have traced their relatives all over North America with family members all the way up to Halifax, Nova Scotia!  Each time the family meets, they travel to a different location and this summer of 2016, the Gordon Family will be coming back to Virginia!  We have invited them to visit Menokin for a special family tour.

Evelyn Parker and Juanita Wells telling their story.
Evelyn Parker and Juanita Wells telling their story.

As a result of our chance meeting, Menokin has since begun to further document the history of the Gordons.  I hope to tell their story in ways that can help others discover and understand their past through video and classroom experiences, and continue to explore the lives of other Northern Neck residents. We are also seeking research assistance from a graduate student to help complete the missing links in their phenomenal story and see this as a great opportunity to develop an ongoing digital history for the future.

Thank you, Evelyn and Juanita, for helping us begin this exciting work.

Mock-up: Before and After

We have talked and talked about the amazing stabilization and preconstruction work that has been taking place at Menokin.

But as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.  The photography of the completed Northwest Corner reconstruction took my breath away. This before and after photo from 2015 shows the remarkable accomplishments of our preservation effort.

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(click on image to see enlargment)

I hope you also feel the excitement and pride that I feel when I see this sneak preview of Menokin in her glory days.

If you’d like to help with our efforts, please consider making a donation.

 

Moving the Stones – Preconstruction Work Summer 2015

By Guest Blogger  Catherine Emery

(For Part I of this Series, follow this link.)

PART II  After two weeks sorting through stones, tagging them and recording their findings, Menokin’s summer interns were ready to get outside and in the field.

With life-sized print outs of Menokin’s HABS drawings delivered and spread out in the yard, Bethany, Sarah and Chris spent two days with architect Nakita Reed and a contractor moving stones onto the drawings.

It was an evolving process, which is to say it wasn’t quite as straightforward as it seemed on paper. Of course, nothing worth doing ever is. The team had the help of a small front loader and were tasked with placing stones that weigh hundreds of pounds the right direction and within the lines of the drawings. Halfway through the day with many of the pieces in place, it was still hard to visualize how it would all come together.

“I don’t know what I thought it would look like,” said puzzled intern Sarah Rogers, “but I’m not sure this is it.”

By the end of day one, though, there was a clear sense of accomplishment and the hard work had paid off. Entire pieces of each elevation had been laid out in stone, giving everyone a clear view of how useful the endeavor would be.

The life size HABS drawings will benefit future contractors, who will be tasked with putting some of the pieces of the Menokin ruin back together. Additionally, the drawings give meaning and purpose to Menokin’s rock yard. Now, visitors to the site can see where all those stones go and how they fit into the larger scope of work at Menokin.

For Sarah, Bethany and Chris, the four-week internship went by fast. They provided an invaluable service to Menokin and in return all expressed deep gratitude for their time there.

Of her time on site Bethany Emenhiser said, “I learned that things don’t always work out in the field the way they look on paper. I learned how fun and important it is to do field work because you learn to be flexible. Menokin was a great place to learn that.”

Jr. Duck Stamp Camp 2015 A Huge Success!

Jr. Duck Stamp returned this summer, bigger and better than ever. Twelve campers had kayaking experiences in three Northern Neck water venues – the pond at Wilna Wildlife Refuge, Cat Point Creek at Menokin and the Potomac River at Westmoreland State Park.

In spite of the brutal heat of the week, the experiences were rich, the knowledge gained was deep and the artwork was beautiful! And there was cake at the end of the week. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Keep in touch for news about Jr. Duck Stamp Camp 2016.

 

Menokin Foundation is 20 Years Old!

That’s right – July 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Menokin Foundation. If you’ve been to Menokin in the last five years or so, you know that a lot has happened here in that time. We had two visitors recently who haven’t been here since 1994. That’s a long time! We told them they were in for a treat. These folks have been constant supporters of Menokin over these past two decades. We are so glad they were able to come and see for themselves what their contributions have help us to accomplish. They sent us an email upon their return home and copies of photos they had taken during their 1994 visit. Here are their note and the images for you to enjoy (with their permission!).

Dear Ladies,

Many thanks for your very warm welcome, for the tour, and for sharing so much terrific information with us on Friday! OBVIOUSLY a great deal has happened in 20 years!  Our visit was the highlight of our Northern Neck tour!  We’re so glad we finally made it!  We also appreciated the tip for Garner’s Produce Stand and stopped on our way home on Saturday.

We visited Menokin on Sunday, November 20, 1994.  We were on a Smithsonian bus tour (“Washington and Lee on the Northern Neck”) led by the indomitable Edwin (Ed) Bearss, former chief historian of the NPS, author, and Civil War & American history expert extraordinaire. We’d also visited Washington’s Birthplace, Stratford, Christ Church, Martin’s Hundred & Carter’s Grove in addition to Menokin (order may not be correct); we had lunch at Tides Inn.

I think there are two different rolls of film but have only found the negatives for one.  It was a lovely and relatively warm day judging by the sky and the attire. I remember our visit as being at the end of the day — you may be able to tell from #31.  I like this one despite the sun because it includes the no trespassing sign!  I remember that we had to wait for someone to come and unlock the gate or barrier (don’t recall which).  It’s also clear that we did walk around — did not remember that detail…

My husband also took photos, and would have typically taken many more than I did.  Mine were somewhat retrievable (in box 12 of about 18), but no idea where his might be.  We’ll come across his eventually and be back in touch.

Thanks again for a lovely visit.

Harbingers of Summer

Some mornings it’s impossible to drive straight down the lane to the Menokin Visitors Center. Today was one of those. So many little signs of the transition from spring to summer were waving me down to take their picture. It took me about half an hour to travel that mile, but I think it was worth it.