the Past, Present & Future
Your Hands on History at Menokin
By Sarah Dillard Pope
Menokin is a National Historic Landmark, built for Declaration
of Independence signer Francis Lightfoot Lee and his wife Rebecca
Tayloe, in 1769. The house, now a partial ruin, is surrounded by 500
acres of countryside in Richmond County, four miles north of Warsaw.
Visitors can experience the inner workings of an
18th century landmark by feeling hand wrought nails; observing how
joists, girders and posts fit together; and looking behind the interior
woodwork to see the construction techniques of the artisans.
Menokin provides you with an intimate and personal
introduction to 18th century architecture, the life of a signer of
the Declaration of Independence and the skilled individuals who built
and developed his home and plantation. Guided tours are available,
starting at the King Conservation and Visitors Center, Monday through
Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Menokin was constructed on the occasion of the
marriage of Francis Lightfoot Lee and Rebecca Tayloe. Rebecca was
the daughter of John Tayloe II, who built neighboring Mount Airy,
which is still in private ownership by the Tayloe family.
John Tayloe II gave the couple the large plantation
on Cat Point Creek, approximately five miles upstream from the Rappahannock
River, and financed construction of the two-story stone Menokin and
its dependencies. Soon after, Francis Lightfoot Lee joined the cause
of American independence, serving in the Continental Congress from
1775 to 1779 and signing the Declaration of Independence (together
with his brother Richard Henry Lee) and the Articles of Confederation.
Both Francis Lightfoot and Rebecca Tayloe Lee died
in the winter of 1797. Over the years following their death, Menokin
went into decline and passed hands several times before coming into
possession of The Menokin Foundation in 1995.
Although Menokin is now in ruin, a remarkable collection
of Colonial architectural elements remains.
Approximately 80 percent of Menokin’s original
materials have survived, including: original stones, brick and mortar;
queen posts and dragon beams; intact framing assemblages; and the
interior woodwork. In 1940, while the house and one outbuilding were
still standing, the Historic American Buildings Survey produced detailed
photography and comprehensive measured drawings of the property.
In 1964, the original pen and ink presentation
drawings for Menokin were discovered among some Tayloe family papers
in the attic of Mount Airy. Four years later, as the house was in
serious trouble of collapsing, the interior woodwork was removed by
the owner and put into storage.
The surprisingly intact woodwork is back at Menokin and can be viewed
at the Foundation’s King Conservation and Visitors Center. Menokin’s
dining room paneling is on loan to the Virginia Historical Society
where it is now on display.
In its partial ruinous state, the house also offers
an extraordinary opportunity for students and professionals in the
preservation field to receive education and training on a broad spectrum
of architectural conservation issues.
The Menokin Foundation believes that the hands-on process of learning
the preservation of historic sites is as important as the final completion
of conservation work at the Menokin ruins. Foundation President Helen
Turner Murphy explains, “Here we have a historic house of which
one-quarter remains standing with original plaster, floorboards and
framing, while the remaining parts of the house, including all of
the exquisite interior woodwork, exist in pieces. The rare, original
presentation drawings and 1940 Historic American Building Survey documentation
provide a ‘road map’ to understanding how these pieces
The Foundation and Rappahannock Community College
have recently teamed up to develop a three-day workshop for architects,
craftspeople, contractors, historic site administrators, and the public
to learn about the latest conservation methods now in use at Menokin.
The course will use Menokin as a teaching laboratory for an intensive
overview of 18th-century framing and building techniques, and the
conservation of historic masonry and wood elements.
It will be taught by conservators John Greenwalt Lee and Charles A.
Phillips, AIA, who lead the Foundation’s consulting conservation
team. Enrollees will meet at Menokin’s Martin Kirwan King Conservation
and Visitors’ Center. Tuition for the three-day program is $200
(to include lunch each day), and RCC will award continuing education
credits to those who complete it.
If you are interested in more information on Menokin
and the conservation workshop, visit the Menokin web site at www.menokin.org,
phone the Menokin Foundation at 804-333-1776, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Dillard Pope is executive director of Menokin Foundation.