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May 1, 2005 Ceremony Marks Monroe Birthday


Free Lance-Star

A controversial plan to build 100 houses next to James Monroe’s birthplace took a polite but temporary back seat Saturday at a Colonial Beach celebration of the great man’s 247th birthday.

Monroe, the son of a Westmoreland County sheriff, was born April 28, 1758, in a modest home built on swampy ground a couple of miles outside town.

A warm spring rain floated trash in the ditches of State Route 205 near the birthplace and moved the ceremony inside Masonic Lodge No. 199 in town.

In an upstairs lodge room, a color guard in Revolutionary uniform and 100 onlookers venerated the man who left Westmoreland County at age 16 and later became a Revolutionary War hero, a Virginia governor and senator, ambassador to France, secretary of state, secretary of war and the fifth U.S. president.

Governmental and Masonic leaders with titles like the Honorable, Worshipful, Right Worshipful and Most Worshipful praised Monroe.

The birthplace site, said Rep. JoAnn Davis, “is sacred and must be forever preserved. I’m sure Westmoreland County regards it in the same light.”

But when the patriotic oratory was done, the gloves came off for historic preservationists determined to stop the subdivision proposed by Douglas L. Cooper of Fredericksburg.

During the ceremony upstairs, Elizabeth K. Singleton, director of the Northern Neck branch of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, solemnly placed a boxwood wreath in Monroe’s honor on an altar in the center of the room.

Afterward at a barbecue lunch downstairs, she said, “We’re making sure everybody knows what’s going on” about the rezoning case.

APVA Executive Director Elizabeth S. Kostelney also has joined the fight.

“The potential of a large tract housing development adjacent to the James Monroe Farmhouse could be devastating to the site and the significant archeological resource of the commonwealth,” she wrote in last week in a letter to the county.

“Retaining the character of the landscape will honor [Monroe] and help educate generations to come about the environs that influenced his thinking. It will also honor the rural character that the county values.”

Upstairs, Robert J. Wittman, chairman of the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors, outlined the county’s plan to build a historical and recreational park on the 76-acre birthplace site that the county has owned—and largely neglected—since 1965.

Downstairs, Wittman said he met recently with Cooper and told him the county would insist upon an archaeological survey of Cooper’s property, which was once part of the original Monroe holdings and might contain artifacts or even a cemetery from Monroe’s era.

Wittman also told Cooper “to rethink the proposed density of the development and to consider cluster development with low-impact design features,” he said.

“Low-impact design and clustering will provide more open space,” Wittman said. “You don’t want to see an historic area next to 100 houses.”

The Cooper case is scheduled for a second round of county hearings in June. An error in a county notice invalidated a first round of hearings last month when the Planning Commission endorsed the project and the supervisors delayed it for further study.

“If the supervisors don’t scotch it, the development is going to take away from the birthplace,” said William M. McCarty, president of the James Monroe Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. McCarty said his members are gathering signatures on petitions against the development.

G. William Thomas, Jr., president of the James Monroe Memorial Foundation, is another foe of the proposed development. The foundation has leased a portion of the birthplace site from the county and plans to build a replica of the house where Monroe was born.

He said construction of the house would start next year and be the site of a gala celebration of Monroe’s 250th birthday in 2008.

To reach FRANK DELANO: 804/333-3834 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it