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December 19, 2007 New Year Holds Promise

By BETSY FICKLIN

Journal Press

The dream of successive generations is finally being realized on the Westmoreland County site where the fifth United States President, James Monroe, was born. In recent weeks the visitor center, which the county government is constructing, has become visible to passers by on State Route 205.

 

Early this week, The Journal spoke with James Monroe Memorial Foundation President G. William Thomas concerning Foundation and local government efforts to restore the site to its previous character.


Construction of the Monroe Birthplace Visitor's Center

As has been previously reported in these pages, the Foundation and the local government formed a partnership several years ago. The county government leased a portion of its Monroe Farm holdings to the Foundation and the two entities are working together to create what promises to be a major tourist destination.

Thomas spoke with enthusiasm this Monday about the Foundation’s successful meeting with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources officials earlier this month. Machinery was put in place and some rather exciting things are happening on the too long neglected James Monroe birthplace site.

At the referenced hearing, the Department of Historic Resources review board and landmarks board voted to endorse re-nomination of larger portions of the former Monroe family farm.

Thomas explained that the designation opens up broader categories of site recognition, providing “honorific status under additional criteria.

“Staff,” explained Thomas, “will now be working to develop a submission to the Interior Department for this additional honorific recognition."

Once the action is taken at the federal level, the Monroe Hall property will bear a National Landmark designation. The Monroe Farm land was previously recognized as a state and national archaeological site.

The additional recognition enables the Foundation to move forward with its plans to reconstruct the ten acres of birthplace property it leased from the county government.

The recent Department of Historic Resources action accords a level of recognition that goes beyond acknowledgement of the site’s archaeological resources. The land itself has historic value of national importance.

Following the Department of Historic Resources board action, the Monroe Foundation President and the Foundation’s architect met with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation officials Carl Lounsbury and Ed Chapell, who will work very closely with archaeologists from James Monroe’s alma mater, the College of William and Mary.

The team of experts will create the design and drawings needed to replicate the James Monroe birthplace home, utilizing the actual drawings for the Monroe birthplace home that are based on the same archaeology team’s 1976 studies, findings associated with more recent archaeological activities, 18th and 19th century documentations that include James Monroe’s own writing in the 1780 Gazette, and an early 19th century drawing of the birthplace home.

“This was a very good Christmas present for the Foundation,” Thomas said of the Department of Historic Resources determinations. “Of course we will continue the Foundation’s annual Monroe Day program at the Birthplace” to commemorate the historic figure’s birth.

“The Foundation’s goal is to begin and complete construction of the Monroe Birthplace home during 2008, when we celebrate James Monroe’s 250th birthday year.

“The officials from Westmoreland County have been very supportive of our efforts,” Thomas stated. “We consider ourselves a partner in this important effort to properly honor the fifth United States President, James Monroe.

“Westmoreland County Special Projects Coordinator Milton Martin was present and addressed the Board at the Department of Historic Resources proceeding. Mrs. Tayloe Murphy was present as a member of that board.

“I reviewed the Foundation’s long history of efforts to develop the Monroe farm, including the efforts of Tayloe Murphy’s parents and the original purchase of the land in the late 1920s by Charles Edward Stuart, the grandfather of Senator Richard Stuart.

“I told the Department of Historic Resources board that the Monroe Foundation has always been interested in the birthplace, that longtime Foundation President Laurence Gouveneur Hoes participated in annual commemorations at the birthplace site for many decades.”

The Foundation was established in 1927 and was the founder and donor of the James Monroe law office, library and museum in Fredericksburg.

Laurence Hoes was the great-great grandson of President James Monroe. In 1927, he and his mother, Rose Gouveneur Hoes, purchased the site where Monroe practiced law in the 1780s, opening it to the public one year later. The Foundation donated the museum and its collections were donated to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1964.

Referencing the Foundation’s recent accomplishments, Thomas commented that he and his associates “are very grateful “for all the public support that has come from elected officials, including Congressman Rob Wittman.

“The Virginia General Assembly has provided financial support for the birthplace project in 2006 and again in 2007. The DuPont fund has allowed us to complete all the archaeological work, as well as the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s contributions. The DuPont fund provided grants in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

“In June the Virginia Department of Transportation announced its award of the James Monroe Trail as part of its enhancement grant program. The trail will connect the birthplace to Monroe Creek and Monroe Bay.”

The county government’s new Monroe Birthplace entrances, driveways visitor center are being developed with other grants and public funds that total approximately half a million dollars. The center will contain exhibits detailing the native son’s accomplishments. Surrounding property will be developed as a park.

The Monroe Foundation will build its replica Monroe family home on the foundation of the original structure. The Foundation additionally hopes to build appendage structures in order to tell the story of what life was like on a modest 18th century farm.

Monroe actually lived on the Westmoreland County property until he was old enough to enroll at the College of William and Mary. While still a student at William and Mary, he was called to service in the Revolutionary war.

Subsequent duties to his state and the new nation made it impossible for Monroe to return to his childhood home for extended periods. The family cemetery has not yet been located, although the tombstone of his father, Spence, was located on a nearby parcel during the 20th century.

The Spence Monroe grave marker had been used by farmers as a weight on horse-drawn plows. It is now part of the Fredericksburg Monroe museum establishment’s collection of Monroe farm artifacts.

Despite Thomas’s recent discussion of the Foundation’s progress in the long-time effort to recreate the Monroe family farm, a portion of the old farm that is immediately adjacent to the publicly owned section is now zoned for development as a residential subdivision. The Westmoreland Supervisors approved the new zoning designation several years ago.