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Celebrating the Past, Present & Future

Lay 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 fit together.”

    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 menokin@menokin.org.

Sarah Dillard Pope is executive director of Menokin Foundation.


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