Monday, March 30, 2009

Southwest Furnishing Research

The Southwest outbuilding is currently closed to the public during this restoration and reinterpretation phase. Right now I am researching the history of the use of this building - we aren't quite sure what the Lees and other residents of Stratford used the building for in the 18th and 19th centuries. An 1801 insurance document indicates it may have been a work shop. Prior to its closing to the public we interpreted it as a clerk's quarter (or living area), office, and servants' hall complex (see image). What will it be next?

Before this space can be opened back up to the public, I will be developing a furnishing plan. This document will outline the overall look of the spaces, the specific objects displayed, as well as the historic documentation available to help inform this plan. Each room will tell a story - reflecting what we know about the Lee family, their hired and enslaved servants, and other residents or visitors to Stratford.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Answers Seem to Raise More Questions

This is my first post to provide an update on our Northwest Stair Restoration Project. We are currently trying to wrap up the architectural investigations within the two spaces that make up this passage. There are a few questions that still need answers before we can start the construction drawings and restoration. This has been an ongoing process and it seems that every time we answer one question, three more arise. Some of the remaining questions are minor, like how to deal with baseboards and modern HVAC vents, while some are more complex. For example, how was the weight of the main floor supported after the floor joists were cut and how will we cover the window that the stairs will bisect?

The investigation has included paint analysis, archival research, and the work of multiple architectural historians, preservationists, and architects over the past 20 years or so. Included is the only photo of the original stair case from Edith Tunis Sale's Colonial Interiors, published in 1930. Plaster has been removed, nail holes documented and analyzed, plaster ghosts discussed, and the reason a stud has been flipped and rotated has been debated. Basically, what I am trying to say is we are going to great lengths to make sure the restored stair passage is as historically accurate as the evidence will allow. No nail hole will go unanalyzed.

I will be back soon with a report of what I find between the ceiling of the ground floor room and the floor boards of the main floor room. In the meantime, read about the history of the Northwest Stair Passage and reasoning behind the project on our web page.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Visitor Center project

As some of you may know, we are embarking on a comprehensive campaign. One piece of this campaign involves redoing our current visitor center (and building on to it) to make it more visitor-friendly. Building a new visitor center is a daunting task, and we're beginning to visit area historic sites to get ideas and to see what everyone else is doing. From there, we'll work to make visitors' experiences at Stratford Hall as well-rounded, entertaining, and educational as possible.

To this end, six members of our staff visited Monticello's new visitor center on Wednesday for a colleague opening. We were highly impressed with the thought, time, and effort that has gone into planning and constructing their new visitor center. One part I personally found especially interesting was their hands-on history room, or "discovery room," as they call it. We've been planning our own hands-on history room for families, and Monticello's is something to live up to. From building blocks for toddlers, to a reading corner for families, to the stores on Mulberry Row (see image), to Thomas Jefferson's bed, this room fascinated me. I wish I had more time to spend there, and am very interested to see how families enjoy the activities.

So tell us, what is it that people are looking for in a visitor center? What works and what doesn't work? Let us know what you think. Within the next few years, we'll be doing lots of research, site visits, and planning for this new building, and we'd like your ideas to help guide us.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Great House Project Updates

Welcome to Stratford Hall's new projects blog! We've begun this site in order to update you on our progress for each of the projects we're working on. We look forward to receiving your comments and suggestions as we begin implementing our new interpretive plan, called the "Lee Heritage Interpretive Plan."

We're currently working on the Southwest Outhouse. This work involves the complete restoration and reinterpretation of the building. Visitors normally meet their tour guide here, and once the work is completed, this space will provide visitors with an orientation to Stratford Hall. Our main focus in this building will be on the Lee family's economic reliance on tobacco production.

We're also reconstructing the stair passage in the Northwest corner of the Great House. This image shows the room in which the stairs will be built. When "Light Horse" Harry Lee lived at Stratford, he added these stairs. They were removed in the 1930s, but will be reconstructed under our new Lee Heritage Interpretive Plan.

Future posts will contain additional information about ongoing and upcoming projects. Please check back frequently!