Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer camps at Stratford

Are you one of 70 million grandparents in the U.S. today?  The average age of first-time grandparents is only 47, old enough to appreciate the rich heritage of our country and young enough to take an active part in the education and cultural enrichment of their grandchildren. This emerging role for grandparents is increasingly significant as parents seem to be working more and have busy schedules. To that end, grandparents throughout the country have found a wonderful way to bond with the younger generation: the history-based summer residential camp programs at Stratford Hall, an 18th century plantation, home of the Lees of Virginia.

Campers get hands-on experiences with an archaeological dig, fossil hunting on the beach and many traditional colonial activities, including, for example, hammering hot iron with the blacksmith, an 18th school lesson, and hoeing Stratford’s tobacco crop. Trays of 18th Century delicacies are carried down the brick walk from the outside kitchen to the Great House dining room to seehich camper can get to the Great House fastest without spilling—all while the cook is harassing them with “You better get movin’, Col. Lee is gettin’ impatient for his dinner.”

The arts have not been forgotten.  Practice on the recorder is enjoyed by all ages.  One 18th century Virginian commented that “there seemed to be tooting coming from every house.”  The harpsichord is the classic instrument of the period, fascinating to play on and to see how it differs from today’s piano. Children may study actual descriptions of early runaway servants and draw posters picturing their interpretation of such descriptions.

Participants in Stratford’s three-day grandparent/grandchild camp relive history. After being inducted into the Virginia Militia and learning to march (are you sure you know your right foot from your left?), campers reenact the  Revolutionary War attack upon Stratford.  In April, 1781, a British landing party rowed ashore, apparently intent on burning buildings there. A small group of local Militiamen, under the leadership of Richard Henry Lee, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, defended the Stratford landing.  The single British casualty was given a solemn burial on the beach.  How can children better come to appreciate a small piece of America’s fight for independence!

At first, campers are startled and puzzled at the shout, “Fire in the henhouse!”  It seems that Henny Penny has been playing with candles again and ignited a (simulated) fire. It’s time to man the bucket brigade, a cooling activity on a warm summer day as water seems to splash everywhere.  Two lines of campers compete to see which can douse the “burning hen house” with the most water. There are, of course, usually some camper comments about fried chicken for dinner.

This 3-day camp experience is not complete without traditional fishing in the millpond, and enjoying the soft, warm sands of Stratford’s pristine beach while searching for Miocene fossils, such as shark’s teeth.  There is free time to hike the nature trails which meander throughout the nearly 2000 acres, or to just relax in the solitude of a “lazy, hazy day of summer.” 

Our campers come from all over the country and leave with last impressions:
“Better organized than any intergenerational that I have attended”
“I’ll be recommending this to many friends”
“Staff overlooked nothing…a delight to be part of this program.”
“Great program! Unique.”
“My granddaughter and I had a wonderful time,lots of bonding, fun and learning together.”
“Captivating, content-full, well paced, a gem of a setting.”
For more information about our Grandparent/Grandchild Summer Camps, please check out our website or call Bill Doerken at (804) 493-8038 (ext. 1026). You can also ask questions below!

 - Bill Doerken, Coordinator of Special Programs

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summer Plans

What are your plans for the summer? A lot will be going on at Stratford over the next few months because this is the start to our busy season. In additional to all the vacationers and staycationers we see every summer, this year's calendar of events is very full. Here are a few highlights!

We kick off the summer with Lees and Independence on June 2nd. The Lees and Independence Family Fun Festival celebrates the date June 7, 1776, when Richard Henry Lee introduced the resolution for independence to the Continental Congress:
“Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
This resolution led to the writing, and subsequent adoption, of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The family event is free and includes pony rides, games, historical dramatizations, food, and more.

We will be holding two teacher workshops. Economic Life in Colonial Virginia: Institute for Teachers of U.S. and VA History/Studies, a residential workshop on economic history of Colonial Tidewater Virginia being held July 26-28, is already at capacity. On August 10th, Stratford will be hosting Sprouting for Success: Ag in the Classroom for the second year. This one-day workshop is free, but pre-registration is required. Click on the link for more information.

Stratford’s popular Grandparent/Grandchild Camp will be held three times this summer: June 26-28, July 10-12, and August 7-9. Campers, both old and young, will look for shark teeth fossils, fish, march as the colonial Virginia militia, learn about archaeology, try bricklaying, and bake a pie in the open hearth kitchen.

The University of Mary Washington will be conducting their Archaeology Field School, the gristmill will be open the second Saturday of each month, and restoration work will continue in the Parlor. Keep checking this blog, our Facebook Page, or website to find out more about all our programs and updates on our projects.  We hope you make Stratford part of your summer plans!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Different View of Stratford

What is your favorite photo of Stratford Hall? 

This question came up yesterday when a great photo of the Octagon showed up on the Facebook page. Certainly when you think of Stratford Hall, an image of the Great House comes to mind. No matter the season, the Great House always makes for a beautiful photo, as evidenced on our current Facebook page banner.

Most of the photos you see of the Great House, however, are looking at it straight on from the south side of the house. These photos, while certainly iconic, give us a one dimensional view of the house. Photos taken from a different view, not usually seen, give us a much wider perspective. Like an aerial photo, or perhaps one of my favorites, taken from the top of the chimney towers.

This photo is in our exhibit "On the Way to Stratford."
Historical photos of the Great House can also be very interesting.  In a temporary exhibit currently in our Visitor Center, titled “On the Way to Stratford,” you can see photos of people visiting the Great House dating back to 1897. These photos also give us an additional perspective of how the Great House has changed over time. There is even a place left empty in the exhibit for your photo, so on your next visit to Stratford, be sure to take a photo of you at Stratford Hall and send us a copy.

A view from a nature trail looking out on the mill pond.
But with 1,900 acres, your favorite Stratford photo may not even be of the Great House. Photos of the Miocene era cliffs, farm animals, the beach, gristmill and mill pond, or the many outbuildings like the Octagon may have been the focus of your favorite photo here at Stratford.

So let us know what your favorite image is, Great House or another scene?  And be sure to post your photos of Stratford on our and Facebook pages.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Dining with Fresh Farm Produce

In the early 1930’s Stratford Hall began serving meals to the public on the ground floor of the Great House.  In May 1937 a new Plantation Dining Room was opened adjacent to the Astor Guest House.  Tragically, that structure survived less than a decade and was destroyed by fire in 1944.  The present dining room was completed in 1951, and the porch overlooking the wooded ravine was added in 1957.  It was enlarged 8 years later to its current size.
Stratford Hall Dining Room has recently added fresh organic produce to the Dining Room menu and it's produced locally on an organic farm. Along with fresh produce, many of the old favorites are back by popular demand (crab cakes, ham biscuits and the ham and crabcake platter). We look forward to a very productive year!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dispatch from the Gate House

In my capacity as Gatekeeper of Stratford Hall, my duties are to help control/monitor access to the property and to direct our guest, visitors, and contractors to their destinations. The Gatekeeper is also the first person to meet and welcome all visitors.  We create the all-important first impression.

For the most part, this is an enjoyable position. I am afforded the opportunity of meeting many very interesting people from locations far and wide. Not only do I have the gratification of assisting our guest in accomplishing the intended purpose of their visit, I also learn many fascinating things from them.

Often times people ask me if the job gets monotonous, out there away from the other buildings and with no one to talk to. My answer is NO! Every day is different. The visitors to Stratford are from all walks of life, ages, and nationalities...each with a different motivation for their visit. 

Perhaps the role I enjoy the most  is answering the numerous questions our valued guests ask. I will never forget one of my earlier experiences in this regard. In the early spring, beautiful fresh blossoms and flowers welcome visitors to Stratford as they approach the front gate. On one occasion, a rather energetic senior citizen inquired of me the name of one of these blossoms. I told her: “ I do not know, but you are about the fourth person to ask.”  She then said: “Well did it ever occur to you to find out?”

This was a good lesson for me.  I did find out that they were Mountain Laurels. From that day on, whenever I am asked a question, I do find the answer.

What is the most frequent question I hear? Well, besides being home to about 40 head of Red Devon Cattle and three horses, Stratford also has several goats.  The majority are very content in the confines of their pen... except one. We affectionately call her Izzie. She is a smaller goat who has a way of crawling beneath the fence in order to graze anywhere she pleases. Izzie always goes home when she is ready, but not before several people stop by and say: “Sir, do you know your goat is loose?”

I am tempted to have a t-shirt made up that reads: "Yes, I know the goat is loose.”

- Larry, Gatekeeper