By BETSY FICKLIN
The symbolic hopefulness marked by the breaking of sacred ground was lost on none of the individuals who converged on Monroe Farm last Saturday morning to celebrate the 249th birthday of the nation’s fifth President.
The National Sojourners stood at attention last Saturday as Tayloe Murphy, Kathleen Kilpatrick, Virginia Brown and Bill Thomas broke ground on the site of the former Monroe family home.
Saturday's excitement coincides with the partnership forged two years ago between the Foundation and Westmoreland’s local government. Monroe Foundation leased part of the Monroe Farm from Westmoreland in order to create a replica of the farmhouse and its appendages.
Saturday’s festivities date back to April 28, 1958, when another generation of the same community of interest gathered on the site to celebrate Monroe’s 200th birthday. Principals associated with that celebration included the Foundation’s founding president and James Monroe descendant, Laurence Gouveneur Hoes.
Another major participant in the 1958 birthday event was the James Monroe Monument Association, a group of Northern Neck residents whose membership included Foundation President Hoes.
The now dissolved Association included a reporter’s grandmother and Tayloe Murphy’s parents. Created for the specific purpose of assembling historically important portions of the former Monroe family farm for redevelopment as a tourist destination, the 1958 event coincided with the transfer of that property to Westmoreland County’s local government.
Progress stalled but not the good intentions of the community of interest. In 1976 William and Mary archaeologists uncovered what remained of the foundation of the former Monroe home.
The William and Mary archaeologists returned in earnest during 2006 and expect to resume their investigative activity later this year. Monroe Foundation, meanwhile, is busy raising ever more money to subsidize its plans for recreating the old family farm.
Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the War of 1812, National Sojourners, Masons, Monroe Foundation directors, members of the Colonial Beach and Westmoreland County local governments, Northern Neck Historical Society, Association for the Preservation of Antiquities and scholars from multiple disciplines came together on Saturday to renew the friendships forged during previous Monroe birthday celebrations.
Referenced associations overtly crossed the generational line on Saturday, when Northern Neck Historical Society President Virginia Brown introduced Tayloe Murphy as one whose parents had contributed greatly to the Monroe Association’s effort to assemble the property in order to appropriately honor the Founding Father on the ground where he was born.
In keeping with his parents’ legacy, the former Virginia lawmaker and Department of Environmental Quality Secretary introduced Virginia Department of Historic Resources Director Kathleen Kilpatrick.
The Director arrived early and the result was an immediate decision to put aside a prepared text in order to share her own experience.
“I feel inspired by this very powerful place,” Kilpatrick commented. “The work that all of you are doing to share this place is very important. This is a place with a story to tell to the generation of children that is growing up in a post 9-11 world, the latch key kids who are seeking stability.
“On this ground another generation can be inspired. As they make the connection and learn what those who came before us have to teach, the seeds of duty to country and honor will be planted in another generation.
“I can feel the power of this place,” Kilpatrick repeated. “There are lessons here that can be felt in no other place, lessons that can be imparted if one will only listen.
“This place clearly has that power. If James Monroe was about anything, he was about patriotism, commitment to country and to our land. The spirit which James Monroe embodied and which you exhibit as a community is absolutely essential to the health of our nation.”
Foundation President Bill Thomas shared plans to begin reconstruction of the Monroe family home later this year. He described the effort as “one of the most significant things we can do in this county and in this century. This is the most important economic development engine Westmoreland County can have in the new century,” said Thomas of the project he hopes will deliver the critical mass as it complements the historically rich jurisdiction’s already developed and commercially important tourist destinations.