- Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 July 2010 05:00
- Published on Wednesday, 21 July 2010 05:00
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Last week my son and I visited Menokin, the Richmond County home site of Francis Lightfoot Lee, who with his brother, Richard Henry Lee, signed The Declaration of Independence. When I was a child the house was standing in a state of decline, but still with structural integrity. As recently as the late 1960s the walls and roof were in place, but then calamity struck, and the building collapsed.
Over the past 15 years the Menokin Foundation, which owns the house and 500 acres, has been laboring to restore the structure. A large metal roof now covers the surviving corner walls, chimneys and small bit of roofline that remains. Nearby a visitor center and conservation building are the sites of the ongoing efforts to piece this massive jigsaw puzzle back together. Assuredly, the project is the most elaborate restoration ever attempted in the Northern Neck.
Sarah Dillard Pope, the Executive Director of the Foundation, had sent me pictures of this small locket with a lady’s portrait on its face and a small fragment of hair inside. On our visit I was able to see the locket in person, and observe the exquisite detail of the portrait, which is either on ivory or porcelain. It has one slight chip to the left, but otherwise is in good condition.
Workers found the locket in the ruins of the house, and now the great mystery evolves as to who she was, and what her relation to the Lees was.
In its own right the locket is a fine piece of workmanship, but the possibility that it could tell us more about the history of the house is intriguing. Could she be Rebecca Tayloe Lee, Francis Lightfoot’s wife, or another family member? Sarah Pope mentioned how sad the owner must have been over losing the locket, the recovery of which came about through this massive effort at restoration.
Unlike the usual “Antiques Considered,” I do not attempt to put a value on this object, but rather to put forth the inquiry, do any history students recognize the lady depicted? Is she identifiable? To date she is the greatest artifact found on the site; perhaps knowing more about her could help to put more of the pieces of the jigsaw in place.
Menokin is a magnificent undertaking in the works. I urge all interested in historic preservation to visit the site and experience history in the re-making.