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February 13, 2005 Big Plans for James Monroe Birthplace

Free-Lance Star

The tangle of Westmoreland County woods where James Monroe was born in 1758 is now the site of a plan to re-create the Colonial birthplace of the fifth president of the United States.

In a proposal submitted to the county, the James Monroe Memorial Foundation says it wants to lease 10 of 73 county-owned acres near Colonial Beach to build "a historically accurate reconstructed farmhouse possibly with some reconstructed outbuildings."

The replica structures, possibly with "small-scale farming and livestock exhibits," would be located near the foundations that archeologists identified in 1976 as those of the modest house where Monroe was born the son of a county sheriff.

"It is too early now to estimate the cost of the project," said foundation President G. William Thomas Jr. of Richmond, but the foundation plans to use it as the centerpiece of a planned 250th James Monroe Birthday Capital Campaign in 2008.

"The foundation has long desired to see a visitor center with educational exhibits at the birthplace site, which would not only help fulfill the foundation's mission, but should also help to promote historic tourism and stimulate local employment in Westmoreland County," Thomas said.

Thomas called Monroe "an underrated and under-valued president."

He said a fully developed replica of Monroe's birthplace could show new generations of Americans that "yes, you can come from humble beginnings and end up being President of the United States."

County Administrator Norm Risavi said a partnership with the foundation "could hopefully turn around" the county's long but largely unimplemented efforts to honor Westmoreland's second president.

George Washington's birthplace is a national monument with a replica house and a working farm on Pope's Creek and the Potomac River.

Six miles away, Monroe's birthplace is an overgrown tract between Monroe Creek and State Route 205 at Monroe Hall. The place now features a flagpole and an assortment of monuments and plaques in memory of Monroe and the politicians and organizations who dedicated them over the years.

In 2001, the county commissioned a $35,000 plan from Charlottesville landscape architect Warren T. Byrd to transform the long-neglected site into a county park with historical and recreational features, but implementation of the plan has proved a slow process.

The county has pledged $50,000 to match $212,000 in federal Transportation Enhancement Act grants to build new entrances, parking and a visitor center at the site.

Those projects are currently under review by state agencies. Risavi said he has now asked the agencies to review the foundation's proposal to avoid "bureaucratic snafus as we approach the finish line."

The county is also reviewing the proposed lease "to make certain it contains the safeguards we must have if something goes wrong," Risavi said.

Thomas and foundation attorney Peter E. Broadbent Jr. met with county supervisors Jan. 31 in a session closed to the public because it was to discuss a prospective business or industry.

The county disclosed the proposed lease Friday as part of an agenda package for a regular meeting tomorrow, when the supervisors may vote to advertise the matter for a public hearing next month.

Under the terms of the proposed lease, the county would build and maintain the entrances, parking and visitors center. The visitor center, a barnlike structure approved by the county last year, would be operated by the foundation.

The county would be free to develop the rest of the property as a county park.

The foundation proposes to pay the county an annual rent of $1 per acre for as long as 109 years.

Founded in 1947 by Laurence Gouverneur Hoes, the Monroe foundation had its start with the James Monroe Law Office and Museum on Charles Street in Fredericksburg, where Monroe practiced law from 1786 to 1790. The museum was given to the state in 1964.

In recent years, the foundation has gone to court over the University of Mary Washington's appointment of regents to the museum board. The matter remains unresolved.

In 2002, the James Monroe Foundation reported revenues of $12,739, expenses of $10,407, assets of $544,389 and liabilities of $164,157.

Thomas said the financial snapshot of the foundation remains essentially unchanged. A major activity of the organization is sponsoring an annual contest of student essays about James Monroe.

Thomas said he was confident of the foundation's ability to raise the money for the birthplace project. A great deal of support for the effort exists at the local, state and national levels, he said.

In 2008, Thomas said, the U.S. Postal Service may issue a stamp at the birthplace commemorating the 250th anniversary of Monroe's birth.

Last year, members of the Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs planted an 18th-century garden at the site and Boy Scouts built a canoe launch on the creek.

Rep. Jo Ann Davis is scheduled to speak at the birthplace April 30 at what members of Colonial Beach Masonic Lodge 199 hope will become an annual commemoration of Monroe, a Mason.

"For far too long, the birthplace has been little more than a driveway and a flag," said Mark Slaw, a past master of the lodge. "The memory of our fifth president is too important to ignore anymore."


Copyright 2004 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.

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