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.