Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Directional Update from the Preservation Department...

It feels like lots of my time lately has been spent in a directional space here at Stratford Hall, these spaces being the Northwest Stair Passage and the Southwest Outbuilding. Each project is moving along, but it can be a little hectic trying to juggle the two and keep them both safely in the air.

In the Southwest Outbuilding, two of the three rooms are about 90% complete. In the workshop space I began to finish the cleaning and conservation of the chimney breast. I am continuing where the conservator left off so he can return to finish conservation of the horse mural. This cleaning and conservation consists of picking off the remaining paint with a scalpel and then washing the wall with distilled water and cotton. My intern, Abby Muse, helped me one day and the two of had so much fun it was difficult to contain ourselves...

The Northwest Stair Passage is also progressing. There have been a few recent snags, but nothing major. Every day, the spaces begin to look more and more like rooms again. The plaster contractor, Cooke's of Richmond, Va, has been hard at work plastering the spaces. They are almost finished with the lower level and will be moving to the Main Floor space next week. They have been very cooperative and respectful while working in the Great House. Our other contractor, Chuck Rackley, is getting closer and closer to wrapping his work up. He was here this week installing some beautiful door architraves that he made. His assistant, Billy, has also been a great help on the project. Next week we will be bringing in a ladder stair that Chuck and Billy made for access to the attic. When the ladder stair is in the room, the plasterers will be able to close everything up and finish the plaster work. Decisions on paint color have been made but I will save that for a future post, so stay tuned!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Interpretation Department Happenings

With our shortened hours, visitors may wonder what we're doing during the winter months here at Stratford Hall. I wanted to report on some of the projects my staff and I are working on this January, February, and March so all of our readers could understand what goes on behind the scenes--while we may not be open to the public seven days a week right now, we're certainly keeping busy!

Our biggest project right now is revamping our school programs for elementary students. The first step in this process is going through our current programs and making some necessary changes to those. For one thing, we're making each station approximately an hour, instead of 25 minutes. This means putting a couple stations together--for example, beginning in the fall, when teachers want the Indentured program, they'll also get the slavery program, too (these were previously separate, and it was possible to choose one over the other). If we talk about indentured servitude without talking about slavery, students are only getting part of the picture of workers on this plantation when the Lees lived here. Thus, we're putting those programs together, adding additional hands-on activities, updating the information we tell students when they're here, and tightening up all of the programs' ties to the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

We're also updating the information that goes out to the schools--pre-visit information will become more detailed and post-visit information will ask how this trip affected the students' learning, so we can judge whether or not our programs are effective. This is going to be a long process, but we have high hopes that all the work will be done by the summer so we can use these newly updated programs for the fall 2010 school visits. To do this work, I've asked several of the interpretive staff to spend their time researching, brainstorming, writing, and doing these programs. I also have two interns from the University of Mary Washington working with me to create a new school program and update several of the older ones. We're all working together to make school visits here top-notch.

Along with this big project, the interpretation department is conducting a lot of training this winter. Aside from several in-service days where we discuss (and practice!) techniques to working with school students, the importance of a theme in tours, and the different types of interpretation, we are also visiting several local historic sites to see how those places do their tours and programs. Last week, we went to Montpelier to see the changes made there and how its staff works in an atmosphere that is always evolving (a very helpful learning experience), and soon we're going to drive the opposite direction to visit Shirley Plantation and Berkeley Plantation on the James River.

These are just a few of the projects going on in the interpretation department this winter--as you can see, we're keeping busy learning new things in order to make your visits to Stratford Hall better every time!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winter Changes at Stratford Hall

For the months of January and February, we are following new winter hours. Stratford Hall's Great House andVisitor Center will be open only on weekends and holidays--January 18th for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; January 19th for Robert E. Lee's Birthday (not an "official" holiday, of course!); and February 15th for Presidents' Day. On March 1, we will return to normal operating hours. The grounds are still open every day from 9:30-4pm, so people are still welcome to hike the trails or visit the beach and look for fossils.

While we operate on this shorter schedule, we're making some changes around the site. For starters, we will be opening a new cafe in our current gift shop building, putting the food services and gift shop together. This cafe will offer light fare for people to purchase, including sandwiches, soups, and salads, and will be open on days Stratford is open to the public. The cafe will have both indoor and outdoor seating, so visitors can enjoy sitting outside during the warm summer months. It will officially open in the spring, once Stratford returns to its normal operating hours. The photos on this blog posting are of our contractors working on the new bathroom in the gift shop/cafe.

This also means that our dining room will now be open only for catered events (this is a permanent change). To book a catered event, please call Kay Campbell at (804) 493-8038, ext. 9696, or e-mail her at

We hope you'll be able to visit us in the spring to experience the new changes at Stratford Hall!