Monday, December 21, 2009

Progress in the workshop thanks to the M-WTCA

Phil Baker and Neil Bohnert of the M-WTCA look over potential tools with Phil Mark, Stratford's Director of Preservation

With the official reopening of the Southwest outbuilding slated for April 2010, we are coming down the home stretch with furnishing research.  The workshop area of the building (the first room you walk into) is in good shape thanks to the support of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association (M-WTCA).

These avid tool collectors and scholars have been helping to identify period-appropriate tools for a woodworking shop and are helping us understand the meaning of notations from our Lee family documents.

In the inventory of Stratford taken in 1758, for instance, we see listed:
Coopers Ditto [tools]
sawyers tools
Carpenters Do [tools]
What specialized tools did each of these kinds of craftsmen need?

And in Richard Henry Lee's memorandum book [in the Huntington Library collection] we have been finding even further information about woodworking at Stratford.  In the document are notations for Lee lending J. Paxton, Stratford's joiner, tools such as "1 1/2 inch Mortice chisel" as well as planes and other items.  This raises questions for us:  What does a 1/2 inch mortise chisel look like in 1787?  Where did the Stratford joiners, carpenters, sawyers, and coopers get their tools?  Who were these men?

We hope to answer these questions and many more with our new display.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas at Stratford Hall

Our yearly Christmas at Stratford Hall will be held this Saturday, December 12, 2009 from 12pm until 8pm.

This year, we're doing things a little bit differently. From 12pm to 4pm, we will have a variety of children’s activities in the Visitor Center, including Christmas crafts and visits with Santa Claus. We will also take pictures of children with Santa Claus and will charge only $1 per picture to print them. This family-oriented portion of the day will also include fun activities in the area around the Great House, where children and parents alike can learn about Christmas during the Lees’ time at Stratford Hall.

At 4:30pm, visitors will begin visiting the Great House to learn about Christmas in the 18th-century. The evening will begin with refreshments and entertainment in the Visitor Center. Then, as you travel across the bridge to the gift shop area, you will enjoy a bonfire where you will meet your guide. From there you will step back into Colonial times as you are guided through parts of the Great House, where you will see how food was served and view the festivities with the Lees’ guests in the Great Hall. You will end your visit in the outdoor kitchen, where you will learn how food was prepared for the Lees and their guests. African American foodways historian Michael Twitty will be cooking in the kitchen. The last tour will take place at 8pm.

Please note that the Great House will be closed until 12pm on December 12, 2009. If you have any questions about this program, please contact me at The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-11.

Hope to see you here at Stratford Hall this Saturday!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Northwest Stair Passage Update

The Northwest Stair Restoration is going at full steam and coming along nicely. Our restoration contractor, Chuck Rackley, has been hard at work and is making great progress. He started with reinstalling the floorboards of the main floor room and framing in the partion wall for the ladder-stair that leads to the attic. After the walls were framed, we began to install a hanging system to hold the load of the main floor after the sister joists were removed. This modern hanging system of steel rods, fabricated hangers, and structural LVL's will be hidden within the floor, partition wall, and attic. This system was neccesary in order to carry the weight of the floor after the floor joists were removed. How "Light Horse" Harry Lee carried the weight is one question that did not have a clear answer; however, we do know that the possible options of how he carried the weight were not acceptable by today's standards, especially being open to the public.

Next came the building of the actual stairs and reconstructing the missing elements. The missing elements include a newel post, hand rail, and various pieces of floor boards. Chuck has been working on finishing the fitting and installation of the stairs and trim elements. We are hoping to start plastering early next week. After the plastering is complete in the spaces, Chuck will return to finish the restoration.

One of the big finds during the project has been a door that can be linked to the Main Floor room of the stair passage. Through extensive paint analysis, conducted by Susan Buck, we have been able to confidently say this is the original door from the partition wall. The original graining of this door was covered with one overcoat of paint. Susan was able to remove this coat of paint while leaving the original graining in place. This door with its original graining and hardware will be reinstalled in its original location.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving at Stratford?

Last week I began thinking about Thanksgiving and wondered how the Lees must have celebrated it at Stratford. After finding no documentation in our research files, I consulted on-line references and came to the conclusion that the Stratford Lees, like most Virginians during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, did not hold annual Thanksgiving observances.

The Internet provided much enlightenment. Even though there exists a controversy about who had the first Thanksgiving—the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts or the colonists landing at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia—these celebrations were short-lived. In 1789, George Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to remember the hardships endured in the war for independence, but the colonies were unwilling to compromise on the date, which conflicted with some local and state observances.

Sarah Hale, editor of Godey’s Ladies’ Book, began earnestly in 1847 to push for Thanksgiving as a nationally celebrated holiday. At her urging, by 1859 Virginia had joined 29 other states and two territories in celebrating Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November. With the approach of Civil War, Sarah Hale continued her efforts to unite the states and have Thanksgiving declared a national holiday.

During the Civil War, there were various days of thanksgiving declared by Presidents Lincoln and Davis to celebrate victories of both armies. On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as a day of national Thanksgiving. Lincoln’s proclamation, however, was not upheld in the Confederate states and it wasn’t until the war ended that a national Thanksgiving Day was established.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cultural Landscape Study at Stratford Hall

Arguably few terms cover more “ground” than “cultural landscape.” In fact, almost any part of the world affected by humans can fit within the overall classification. The microcosm of that world which is Stratford Hall’s nearly 2,000 acres can itself be examined as a unique cultural landscape. This, in turn, consists of component landscapes such as the acreage encompassing the Great House, its dependencies, and gardens, as well as the beach, mill, and millpond area on the Potomac River. Carrying this further, the Stratford landscape(s) can then be assessed both diachronically and synchronically, that is examination of continuity and change over an expanse of time, as well as in-depth analysis focused on one or more limited periods of time.

To guide board and staff to a deeper understanding of our spot on the globe, we will soon have historic landscape professionals undertake a detailed study of the Stratford property, the ultimate result being a cultural landscape report. This, and especially its various “treatment” recommendations, will provide the foundation for a landscape master plan which will guide us toward the best ways to manage and interpret our fields, forests, river front, grounds, and gardens. We’ll keep you posted

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rediscovering the Historic House

As we prepare for the implementation of the Lee Heritage Interpretive Plan in the coming years, one of the principal challenges is finding a way to make a tour of Stratford Hall engaging for the broadest possible audience.

An important step toward resolving this challenge took place on October 28 and 29, when we hosted a symposium called “Rediscovering the Historic House.” The purpose of the symposium was to draw together representatives from a variety of diverse perspectives to consider changes to the current historic house tour model. Extensive visitor surveys and other evidence indicate that the traditional historic house tour model, where visitors are guided through a series of period rooms, does not appeal to a growing portion of visitors.

Thanks to the support of the Chipstone Foundation, we were able to assemble a diverse panel of experts to consider solutions to this challenge. Included on the panel were Erica Donnis, from Reach Advisors; Kati London and Demetri Detsaridis of Area/Code Games; Tom Scheinfeld Director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University; Brian Sturm from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, who specializes in storytelling and storytelling theory; Philip Kennicott, the cultural critic for The Washington Post; Phil Bigler, a former national teacher of the year and Director of the James Madison Center at James Madison University; Barbara Charles, an exhibit designer with the firm Staples and Charles; and Jonathan Prown, Director of the Chipstone Foundation. Also on the panel were Cary Carson, retired Vice President of Research at Colonial Williamsburg, and Kym Rice, Professor and Director of the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University. Cary and Kym were included to help provide synthesis among the various ideas and perspectives.

The first day of the symposium began with a tour of the Great House and grounds. The panelists were divided into three groups and asked to develop some new ideas for presenting the story of the Lees and their plantation community, focusing on three ideas: desire, boundaries, and senses. These ideas were discussed and served as a starting point for a wide-ranging discussion of the challenges of presenting multiple stories at Stratford Hall. This exercise was highly useful, and might serve as a model for other sites.

The second day of the symposium was open to the public. Nearly one hundred museum professionals and other interested participants were in attendance and were treated to a series of fascinating presentations by the panelists on their ideas for improving the tour model at historic house museums. All these presentations are available on our website as a podcast.

No magic solutions came from this symposium. There were, however, a lot of great ideas. We will be implementing some of these ideas as the Lee Heritage Interpretive Plan progresses. Check back on this blog for further updates!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fall finds its way into the Historic Area

 The beautiful gold, red, and orange leaves are, well, falling at Stratford Hall (which is keeping our grounds crew very busy!).  In the Historic Area we made a switch into Fall mode this morning - we put away the figs, pomegranates, and plums and pulled out the apples and oysters.

Fireplaces in the Great House are now fully stocked with their requisite cold-weather andirons, wood, and fireplace tools; the beds are all outfitted with their full hangings that could be pulled around the sleeper to keep out the chill; and we, like many of you, are thinking ahead to the Christmas holidays. 

Stay warm and mark December 12th on your calendars for a very special Christmas at Stratford event.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Visitor Center Exhibits Get a Facelift

Gretchen reports:

The Lees of Stratford Gallery has received an update, with the final touches completed just this past Friday. We are very excited to be able to bring new interpretive information and objects into the gallery, which will hopefully please both new and returning visitors.

The update includes new object label text with more stories about the Lees and other residents of Stratford; added screening to our lights to cut down levels near light-sensitive objects; and new object mounts to make sure the artifacts are safe and secure.

Jenn from SurroundArt made over 60 mounts in the course of 5 days! For those counting, that just might be a mount-making record.

Kat Marshall put her skills to work cutting out all the new labels for the gallery.

Carlos from SurroundArt carefully rehangs the Lee family coat of arms on its new mounting system (much better than a single nail).

New objects in the cases include: fragments from a rat’s nest found in the Great House's attic (
see here for my previous post); the original Hall chandelier hook; Arthur Lee’s writing box; a tureen and ladle from the Storke/Stuart period of Stratford ownership; an original pot hook and birdhouse from Stratford; buttons from Robert E. Lee’s uniforms and a vase used to hold flowers at his funeral.

And a big thank you goes to those donors who helped fund this project:
  • 2009 Update Funding Provided In Part By David H. Walker, Tranquillity, Reedville, Virginia
  • Conservation Funding Provided in Part By Mr. and Mrs. Peter Irving Channing Knowles II, Richmond, Virginia

Laura reports:

In addition to all these updates in the Lee Gallery, we added two new temporary exhibits as well. One exhibit showcases fossils from the Miocene era found right here at Stratford Hall, and the other exhibit presents visitors' photographs in front of the Great House. If you have any photographs of friends or family (historic or present-day!), please send them to me at

We did the work on these exhibits in-house, with the help of our collections staff--Gretchen, Sarah, and Kat--and with some mount-making brilliance by Carlos and Jenn at SurroundArt. We're very pleased with the outcome, and we hope you'll come to visit to see the changes in the Lees of Stratford Gallery, and the new temporary exhibits--"The Miocene Era"and "On the Way to Stratford." Let us know what you think.

There are always new things to see at Stratford Hall!

Kat and I figure out photo placement for "On the Way to Stratford." Lots of painters' tape!

A view of the partially-completed exhibit about the Miocene era. Come and see all the great specimens now on display!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hello! From The New Preservation Intern

I was so excited to be asked to come back to Stratford Hall as an intern after attending a summer field school earlier this year. Having recently completed my Preservation studies at Belmont Technical College in St. Clairesville, OH, this internship has been a great way for me to transition from schooling to more hands-on work...and there is no shortage of hands-on work to do at Stratford Hall!

Coming from a trades-based preservation program, I have been able to easily step into the day-to-day stride around here. We have already worked through a sizable laundry list of projects in the Southwest outbuilding. So as not to repeat too much of Phil's recent update, I'll just touch on the highlights.

After what seems like weeks and weeks of scraping, sanding and patching, we are now completing first and second coats of whitewash and paint in both the main room and paneled room. Phil really has a flair for paint and it has been great hearing his take on the current options to choose from when dealing with historic finishes in a modern market. With the current downfall of oil paint options, preservationists are now looking to new latex paint products offering the same results and consistency that oil paint has historically had. We are both eager to see how they hold up over time.

We are also pleased to report that the SW outbuilding now has all its windows restored and in place! That's quite an achievement around here, as it has been some time since they were last all in. The 16 over 16 pane window sashes are quite a time-consuming project to tackle when doing a total restoration. After a fresh coat of paint on the exterior window and door frames, the old building is really looking great!

The other exciting project has been the rebuilding of the Northwest stair passage in the Great House. The framework is really coming along nicely and it has been a real treat to watch Chuck Rackley and his crew work. We have been photo-documenting their progress as the main supports are going in and the rough appearance of stairs is now taking shape. There is still a long way to go, but everyone around here is buzzing with anticipation now that work has started.

Lastly, Phil and I completed a preliminary conditions assessment of the two slave cabins in front of the Great House in order to work up an estimate for their stabilization. After taking measurements, photos, and materials samples, the main concerns tend to include window refinishing and masonry crack monitoring/repair. We gathered some samples from the current whitewash that is covering the interior masonry to try and determine its composition. After putting the samples through several solvent tests, it was determined that it may indeed be a lime-based whitewash rather than an oil or latex-based product.

Don't worry, its not all work around here, though. Kat, the collections intern, and I, have had some chances to get out and take in the pretty fall weather. Stratford Hall is so lovely this time of year that a long walk down to the beach, or a hike around the pond is always in order. We also had the chance to attend Montross's Fall Festival...munching on corndogs and bbq as we went and taking along a delicious cake from a bake sale. Speaking of food, we have been putting our little hotplate in our cabin through its paces by cooking up a storm during the weekend and taking over the director's house kitchen for more rigorous recipies.

Well, look for more updates as we go, as there is plenty going on here at Stratford Hall!

~Michelle Morrison, Fall Preservation & Restoration Intern

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall Collections Management Intern

Following my summer internship, I have returned to help out Sarah with some additional pressing projects in the Collections Management department. Our priority coming into the fall was to deal with the mess the Barn Swallows left behind; however, my first couple of weeks back were spent tending to the parlor in the Great House. Due to the construction in the Northwest stair passage, adjacent to the parlor, we have rearranged the parlor quite a bit; we packed and removed the tabletop objects, placed packing blankets on the floor, moved the furniture to the far side of the room on top of the blankets, and covered windows with black sheets to prevent UV damage to the objects since they are now nested together near the east-facing window. The vibrations caused during construction can have a negative impact on objects so by removing some objects and placing the large pieces on vibration-absorbing blankets, we are protecting the objects from harm.

However, we can’t do all the work when it comes to large, delicate pieces of furniture we can’t move by ourselves. For this, a professional art packing and transport company was brought in to move the larger objects, move and re-hang a portrait painting, and soft-pack a mirror and move it safely into object storage. I have an interest in these types of organizations, so I was enthralled watching them move about and work so quickly, yet carefully, especially while packing the mirror.

Since the parlor movement, we have been able to put our focus on the Slave Quarters. I familiarized myself with research Sarah had done on the health risks of working with bird feces and helped to order supplies and prepare for the object inventory of the buildings. Sometimes the preparation can take as long as the actual project. This is uncharted territory for Sarah and me, so speculating what supplies and equipment we will need is partially a guessing game. Fortunately, we got everything we think we need and two weeks ago we performed the inventory. This was not a normal inventory, like what we did over the summer. In order to protect ourselves from the potential diseases in the bird feces, we wore protective gear, including respirators, Tyvek suits and booties, discarded utensils and equipment used during inventory to prevent contact at a later date, and promptly washed our clothing, even though, theoretically, it did not come in contact with any contaminates because of the Tyvek.

With that part behind us, we are now diligently working to identify the objects inventoried. This proves to be complicated at times though because many of the objects were not properly numbered or documented when they first came to Stratford Hall many years ago. Once completed, it will be decided how to proceed with cleaning objects, packing, and moving them out of the Slave Quarter buildings so the buildings themselves may be cleaned.

- Kathryn “Kat” Marshall, Collections Management Intern

Monday, September 28, 2009

Update from the Preservation Department

It's been a while since I have been able to post a Preservation Department update. Sorry about that, but it has been a busy few months. I am currently juggling the Southwest Outhouse restoration project and the Northwest Stair Passage restoration project.

The interns and I have been working hard in the Southwest Outbuilding to get the restoration completed by the middle of October. My two summer interns restored one window, leaving one to be restored. I was able to employ a fall intern, who is currently restoring that final window. We have been scraping paint, repairing plaster, and even getting some finish coats of paint on windows. Within the next week we should be able to start putting finish coats of paint on the walls and trim. In what will be the workshop and the bedchamber, the walls be painted with a simulated whitewash, while the trim and windows will be painted with a dark brown, which would have been considered "Spanish Brown" in the 18th Century. Spanish Brown was often used for baseboards and used if an outbuilding's interior elements were painted with a color. This was the case because it was cheap and hid dirt well. The last room, which has wood paneled walls, will be painted a blue-gray color with Spanish Brown baseboards. The brown being used was identified on some baseboards in the Great House from the same time period.

The Northwest Stair Passage project has been picking up momentum over the past couple of months. Most of the lingering questions have been answered, but there will always be some questions and speculation with projects like this one. We have been working closely with the project architect and the Historic Resource Advisory Panel in order to restore the stair passage accurately. The final construction documents are at the State DHR for review and we are hoping to begin construction very soon.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Temporary Exhibits

Judy Hynson and I are planning two temporary exhibits to go in our changing exhibition gallery in the Visitor Center. One exhibit space will be dedicated to visitors’ experiences at Stratford Hall. People have visited the Great House at Stratford from the late 1730s to the present for a variety of reasons. Fortunately for us, many of these travelers recorded impressions of their visits in writing and photographs. From these descriptions and mementos, we are better able to document the changes made to the interior and exterior of the house over the centuries.

We’re currently collecting photos of visitors to Stratford Hall, whether those photos were taken of people in front of the Great House or elsewhere on the historic site. This photograph was taken of some visitors in the 1920s and given to our collection. If you have any photographs—historic or current!—of you or your friends and family at Stratford Hall, please contact me at or at (804) 493-8038, ext. 1920. Judy and I are hoping to collect all sorts of visitors’ photos so we can display them.

The second exhibit we’re currently working on is about fossils that have been found at Stratford Hall. We’re looking forward to putting together some of our collections and working with Dr. Lauck Ward, from the Virginia Museum of Natural History, to identify various types of fossilized bones, sharks’ teeth, vertebrae, and shells from as far back as the Miocene era, 12-17 million years ago. Do you have fossils you’ve found at Stratford Hall that you’d like to donate to our collection? If so, please contact me.

We expect these exhibits to be completed and installed by the end of October 2009. Be sure to stop by and see them when you next visit Stratford Hall!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bird Update

It is the end of summer and as previously hoped, our Barn Swallow fledglings have moved on to warmer climates. While we surely miss watching the young birds learn to fly, I hope that they will not return next year to nest at Stratford Hall.

While the birds were in residence, it gave us the opportunity to conduct further research on how to properly decontaminate areas that are highly soiled with bird feces. Bird and bat droppings contain such disease organisms such as Cryptococcosis, Histoplasmosis, and Psittacosis. These organisms can cause potential respiratory problems in humans, so careful clean-up and precautionary measures must be taken when working with bird and bat feces. We will be wearing protective clothing and breathing apparatuses while working in the Outbuildings that the Barn Swallows chose as nesting areas on the estate. Our hope, along with restoring the areas to their prior cleanliness, is also to prevent future nesting to take place.

As a historic site opened to the public, we cannot use the common answers of installing plastic eaves and wire mesh to buildings to prevent future nesting. Thus, creative avenues of cleaning with non-toxic chemicals, using plastic owls and snakes as scare tactics, and staff vigilance in preventing re-nesting will hopefully do the trick! So please remember as you visit Stratford that we are in the process of cleaning and re-housing objects to make the visitor experience more enjoyable.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer on Stratford Hall's Beach

This post is by Lin, our beach security person. I've posted it for him.


This was one hot summer sitting on the beach keeping people from coming onto the beach from the river. Since Stratford is situated on top of 150-foot-high cliffs on the Potomac River, I have to keep people from going up to the cliffs, which could seriously injure people if there were any cliff slides. I’ve had some very interesting experiences with a variety of people coming along the Potomac. While most of them simply don’t realize they aren’t allowed to look for fossils in this area because it’s so dangerous, there are those boaters who come back time after time—but they seem to have finally learned that I’m posted at the beach!

Along with some difficult situations with boaters, I’ve also had some funny incidences. I have fallen down, over, and into more things than you can imagine. Once, I fell from the top of a ridge and rolled all the way to the beach, lost my name badge, and—to top it off—rolled through a nest of ticks. I must have made a lot of noise going down because by time I got to the bottom the people I was going to talk to were long gone. The first thing I did, as most of us probably would, was to look around and make sure that nobody saw me fall. Then, of course, I continued nonchalantly down the beach. After the multiple falls I’ve had, I finally made the decision to bring my jet ski to patrol the beach. That makes the several-mile beachfront much easier to traverse!

While working on the beach, I’ve experienced several severe thunderstorms. The worst one was this past Saturday, the 22nd—the sky got very dark and it began to pour so hard that it was coming down sideways. I sat in the guard shack on the beach until the worst of the storm had passed, or at least so I thought! I began heading back to Westmoreland State Park on my jetski, but little did I know that the wind kicked up the water so much that the waves were between 2 and 3 feet high. A couple of times I went under a wave and then popped back up only to be broadsided by another wave and almost capsized. I finally made it to the ramp at Westmorland Park. After my experience working on the beach, I have a list of things I’ll never do again, and that happens to be one of them!

In the end, though, I’ve met quite a few nice families who come to Stratford Hall’s beach to look for sharks’ teeth and other fossils, or just to relax for a few hours. If you haven’t been to our beach, remember to visit me down there the next time you come to Stratford Hall!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer Curatorial Intern at Stratford

My project this summer, as Gretchen’s intern, is to research the Lee family silver at Stratford to learn more about the Lees by way of the serving tools they used and the silver purchases that they made. As only a few pieces of Stratford Lee silver are known at this point, one of my main tasks is to find Lee silver in other collections, both public and private. This will help us develop a fuller picture of the original silver used by the Stratford Lees. At this point, word is out, and several institutions have responded noting that they have Lee pieces that may be of interest to Stratford. In late August, I will travel to Lee Chapel to research the Lee silver in that collection, and I am currently corresponding with Arlington House to learn more about their silver collection. The Society of the Lees of Virginia has also generously offered to announce our research effort in the upcoming August newsletter. Our hope is that Society members might notify us of other Stratford Lee pieces. In addition to my detective work, I am investigating the pieces within the collection—in particular the makers—to learn more about the buying patterns of the Lee family. I have also been rifling through Lee family letters, wills, inventories, and such to find mention of silver objects to determine what specific items the family owned and used.

The staff at Stratford has made the intern experience both educational and interesting, and has offered opportunities for us to meet with other professionals in the field. Recently, the interns took a field trip with Phil to Colonial Williamsburg to visit with conservator Susan Buck. I will return to Colonial Williamsburg in a few weeks with Gretchen to meet with the textiles curator, Linda Baumgarten.

As this is my first trip to Virginia and I am far from my home in Texas, I have been exploring the area on weekend trips, such as the battlefield at Fredericksburg, George Washington’s birthplace, and Mount Vernon. Just a few weekends ago, Kat, Kate, Abby, and I glided along the Potomac on kayaks from Westmoreland State Park. I realize that the new will eventually wear off, but I still squeal when I see a bald eagle, one of the many deer grazing at Stratford, or a raccoon peering in the window. (I have been squealing quite a bit, actually, because the insect population here in the Virginia woods is abundant, and the specimens are large!)

From researching Lee silver to touring the Northern Neck and more on the weekends, I have appreciated the opportunity to live and work at Stratford. While here, I have learned much about the Lee family and am developing a better understanding of the historic house museum as an institution. I look forward to my remaining weeks here—it has been a great pleasure to collaborate with the personable and professional team at Stratford.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summertime for the Lees

Historic house museums offer unique challenges. We want to keep the displays dynamic and entice visitors to come back and not just say "I've seen it already". One of the ways we try to keep the rooms exciting is by changing them periodically to reflect the seasons or a particular story that we want to tell. Although we are halfway through summer, we will be installing summer scenarios on Friday morning that will allow our interpreters to talk to visitors about seasonal habits and housekeeping tasks in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

At my house, summertime means cranking up the air conditioning. For the Lee family, however, summertime would have meant doors and windows were left open to invite cross-breezes; heavy wool carpeting was removed in favor of bare wood floors or grass mats; gilded frames and mirrored glass were covered to protect the delicate surfaces from fly specks (debris left by the flying pests); and fireplaces were cleaned out, andirons stored away, and the fireplace opening either closed up with a decorative fireboard or used to display a potted plant.

Faux (fake) foods have recently arrived from Henri Gadbois in Houston, Texas for use in these new scenarios. Henri is a skilled artist who makes faux foods for museums out of materials that are safe for use with historic objects - earthenware, resins, and acrylic paints. I recently contacted Henri to help with our summer installations and he sent a wonderful collection of fruits known to have been at Stratford during the 18th century: pomegranates, figs, and plums (pictured below).

Summer fruits were eaten out of hand, cooked in puddings and cakes, or preserved or pickled for later use. In the Kitchen we'll be illustrating the ingredients for a pudding recipe found in Amelia Simmons' American Cookery (1798): “Put into paste, quartered [plums], lye in a cloth and boil two hours, serve with sweet sauce.”

I can just imagine the joy that must have accompanied summertime at Stratford - the longer days, warmer weather, and plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables. Summer fruits like pomegranates and figs are mentioned in multiple Lee family documents, such as the diary of Lucinda Lee, who records on October 3, 1782 during a visit to Stratford: “sat about two hours under a butifull shade tree, and eat as many figs as we could...”

Like today, gifts of food were also common in the 18th century and Stratford mistress Ann Carter Lee makes such a gift to Mrs. Richard Bland Lee in 1799, writing: “You will receive three kinds of Plums, they are remarkably fine, particularly the red plum...”

We hope that you’ll come and visit to see Stratford as it would have appeared during those hot Virginia summers the Lees knew so well. Come take a walk around our gardens and orchards; take a tour of the house and see if you can spot the figs, pomegranates, and plums!

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Signage to Visit

I've been working with fellow staff members for over a year to prepare eight new waysides (or signs) to be installed at Stratford Hall. Seven of these waysides were funded, in part, by a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network. Finally, as of last Thursday, all of our hard work has been realized. We spent 10 hours lugging concrete, digging post holes, and carrying tools on a variety of hiking trails to put these new signs in place. It was a long, hot task, but we're done--and now you can visit these eight new signs when you next visit Stratford Hall!

All of the signs funded with the help of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network focus on the 17th-century, before the Lee family lived at Stratford. Two new waysides are located at the Clifts Plantation site, where the Pope family lived when they owned this property in the 1600s. Another one of the signs is on the northeast side of the house, near the Octagon building, and it interprets American Indians who would have lived on these lands. The rest of the signs are located on various hiking trails: Early forests are discussed in the sign on the Little Meadow Trail; the differences between the Chesapeake Bay then and now are interpreted on the Mill Overlook Trail; Stratford's Miocene-era cliffs are featured on the Silver Beech trail; and the history of the Mill Pond area is interpreted on the sign placed near the Mill Pond trail.

In addition to these seven signs, we also placed one that was not part of the grant. This one focuses on the slave cemetery located next to the Council House. There is a small marker in the cemetery from the 1950s, and this new sign explains the meaning behind that marker. In the slave cemetery, we chose to explain the 1950s marker and name some of the slaves who we know are buried in that area.
I hope that the next time you come to Stratford Hall, you look for and read these new waysides. If you have additional questions or comments about them, please let us know!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Painful Past We Must Not Forget

It isn’t possible to truly understand Stratford Hall’s history without examining the lives of the enslaved Africans and African Americans who labored on Lee family lands and who mastered crafts necessary to make plantation operations flow smoothly. As on other colonial tidewater plantations, it was chiefly their toil that produced the cured tobacco that was the foundation of the region’s agricultural economy up to the American Revolution.

Stratford Hall’s staff uses a variety of tools to tell the story of the many slaves who once lived here and whose presence is now witnessed chiefly through the archaeological record and surviving period documents. An 1801 insurance document that illustrated two 16’ x 32’ slave quarters “built of stone…covered with wood” offers an excellent example of the latter (image courtesy Library of Virginia). This, in turn, helped guide the 1939 reconstruction of the two-roomquarters located southeast of the Stratford Great House. Our curatorial department is currently developing a new furnishing and signage plan for one of these. Aided by 18th-century documentation, this will offer a much-enhanced understanding of the daily lives of four identified members of the Lee slave community. Not only will these improvements enlighten day-to-day visitors, but they will also be valuable assets to our interpretive staff who lead students through the “Slavery” unit of our Educational Adventure field trip program.

To help teachers examine the topic in depth, Stratford Hall is also offering a “Symposium on Slavery” October 2-4, 2009. A residential, day-and-evening program, it will introduce educators to noted slavery scholars, along with the best literature available on the topic. Led by emeritus Virginia Commonwealth University professor Phil Schwarz, the symposium is being supported by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and is closely linked to the Virginia Standards of Learning. Details are at the symposium’s page on our website or simply call the Education Department.

If you cannot come in person please explore the topic of slavery at Stratford Hall by visiting our website. From there you can also link to the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery and discover more about Stratford Hall’s digs as well as about archaeological investigations at other slave-related sites in Virginia, South Carolina, and the Caribbean.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stratford Hall 2009 Summer Interns

Hello everyone! Greetings from Kat, Kate and Abby, three of Stratford Hall’s summer 2009 interns, here to talk about our experiences thus far. The first six weeks of our internships have flown by.
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As Sarah’s Collection Management Intern, I have kept very busy making steady progress on the comprehensive inventory of the decorative arts collection. We have completed the Parlor, Boys Bedchamber, and are now knee-deep in the Dining Room and Dining Room Closet. Tackling the object movement, cleaning, and renovation of the Slave Quarters have been a priority since the beginning of the internship. However, local barn swallows, who have decided to use the Slave Quarters as their home for the summer months, have halted our progress on that front (see Sarah’s recent blog for more details).

I have been getting useful hands-on experience from working with the ReDiscovery database as part of the inventory for updating all of the collections records. Through some rather close encounters, I have gotten to know more about pest management and I have also dabbled in assisting with environmental concerns such as HVAC issues and an incident involving a sprinkler leak. My background has mainly been in the fine arts field, so coming into a historic house museum has been a positive change for me. It has given me a different perspective on Collections Management and a new interest in a different type of museum. I am looking forward to the remainder of the internship and learning even more from Sarah.
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Kate and Abby:
Phil, not to be outdone, wasted no time putting us to work. By the end of the first few weeks as the Preservation Interns, we had braved the attic, survived a week without Phil, and began the process of restoring the Southwest Outhouse windows.
We are now sufficiently comfortable with the scraping, reglazing, and painting process. Students from Belmont Technical College joined us during our third week for the first Preservation Field School at Stratford Hall. Throughout their restoration of one of the springhouses, we assisted with documentation of the structure and work completed. While the students were here, we also had the opportunity to visit the historical sites of Menokin and Kenmore with them. After the field school was completed, our primary focus became the Southwest Outhouse.

The bedroom south wall was tackled first, removing all failing plaster (and a few knuckles along with it). We also applied the fine art of poulticing to the salt ridden fireplaces using wet toilet paper. So far the toilet paper has been successful in removing the salts. This past week we began scraping the main door frame and the second window frame of the outhouse. It has been a productive but slow process due to the extreme deterioration of the paint. Our next focus will be centered on the remaining window of the outhouse and the beginning stages of patching and painting all of the wall surfaces in the interior.

However, our internship thus far has not just been all work and no play. Phil has planned several day trips to various suppliers including Virginia Limeworks and also to Williamsburg to meet Susan Buck, the renowned paint analyst.

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From the first six weeks on the job, the three of us will certainly have countless memories of Stratford and the surrounding areas of Virginia. We have battled bugs the size of our palms, become obsessed with hunting for shark’s teeth at the beach, and encountered all kinds of wildlife - foxes, turkeys, an abundance of squirrels (those who have been to Stratford know there are no lack of squirrels here), and for Kat, two rather precarious incidents with raccoons.

Taking full advantage of being somewhere new and exciting for the summer, we have done quite well filling our weekends to the brim with activities. We have taken trips to D.C., and Fredericksburg (including a ghost tour), sampled local wines, picked various berries at Westmoreland Berry Farm (and indulged in pie and ice cream for lunch of course!), eaten on the water at Colonial Beach, and will soon add a weekend trip to Williamsburg to the list. We are so grateful to be able to have this opportunity to live and work at Stratford Hall for the summer and will certainly keep everyone updated on our work and adventures.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Preservation Field Lab at the Spring House

For a week at the end of June, Belmont Technical College's Building Preservation/Restoration program brought eight students here to Stratford Hall to preserve one of our spring houses. This project was chosen as the first collaboration between Stratford Hall and Belmont Technical College to ensure that this spring house will continue to stand and function for years to come.
Over the course of the week, the students were able to complete the preservation work. The work included installing a new cypress shingle roof, painting all the wood elements, repointing, brick replacement, brick wall stabilization, and stair repair. As with almost all preservation work, as they began working, new problems were identified and the group handled them with ease. One of the problems encountered by the group was rotting purlins and rafters. They were able to consolidate or replace these areas and continue with the project.

This first collaboration was a success for both the Belmont students and Stratford Hall. The spring house was preserved while the students gained hands-on experience at a historical site. We are hoping to continue this relationship in the future. It is my hope to continue supporting students who are pursuing a career in hands-on preservation through internships and field labs here at Stratford Hall.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

2009 Field School Findings

The 2009 Field School students departed on June 19 after 5 weeks of excavating in the field west of the Oval. Most of the test units are now backfilled, leaving just a few open for future study. The weather this summer was fairly cooperative since the intermittent rains kept the ground soft for digging. We enjoyed having the students here and will miss seeing the daily flurry of activity as we drive around the site.
The exciting discoveries for the season were two large postholes for an earthfast building close to the present paved road. These postholes, found during the final days of the field school, have other features associated with them which were probably storage pits within the building. The students found plenty of artifacts, such as pieces of ceramics, glass wine bottle fragments, iron nails and large amounts of crumbled brick, throughout the excavation area. These artifacts basically date from the same period as the artifacts found in other parts of the Oval site. The units also yielded evidence for gardening and fences.

The spacing of the postholes will allow field school director Dr. Doug Sanford to estimate where other postholes would likely be located. We will probably find out how large the structure was (and what it was used for) when the field school returns for another season. We thank the University of Mary Washington for making the 2009 field school season possible.