Swem Photo Exhibit Tells Story of Historic Virginia Home

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The preservation efforts surrounding the Menokin House involve protecting the ruin of the original house and rebuilding the remainder of the structure with glass. (Courtesy Menokin Foundation)
The preservation efforts surrounding the Menokin House involve protecting the ruin of the original house and rebuilding the remainder of the structure with glass. (Courtesy Menokin Foundation)

A new photography exhibit at Swem Library is sharing the store of a College of William & Mary alumna’s efforts to restore and revitalize the ruins of the home of a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

Sarah Dillard Pope of William & Mary’s class of 1990 has dedicated the last 10 years to saving the Menokin House in Warsaw, Virginia.

The 200-year-old structure was the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a key player in the struggle for American independence.

When confronted with the task of preserving the house and the 500-acre plantation on which it is situated, Pope decided to take a non-traditional approach. The Menokin Foundation, of which she is the executive director, is using structural glass to re-create an impression of what once stood, while leaving the ruins of the house that have survived to this day untouched.

“The current condition of Menokin is one part of its long story, a story that continues to evolve and needs to be told,” Pope said. “The marriage of 21st-century materials and technology with the 18th-century fabric will allow us to do that.”

In order to promote the Foundation’s efforts, Pope approached Swem about the possibility of sharing the house’s story through a photo exhibit to be displayed in the library’s gallery.

“We’re happy to host the exhibit here at Swem. It spotlights an important project that adds to our understanding of 18th-century life in the Tidewater area,” said Jay Gaidmore, director of Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center.

The exhibit, which is on display now through Oct. 6, represents a visual journey through the Menokin house’s history. The collection features photographs taken in 1930 by Frances Benjamin Johnston and photographs taken by Hullihen Williams Moore between 2012-14.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the library will also be partnering with the Menokin Foundation to host a special event lecture.

On Sept. 18, Pope and Moore will be speaking about ongoing reconstruction and preservation efforts between 5 and 7 p.m. in the Swem Library Botetourt Theatre and Galley. This talk is free and open to the public, but interested parties should RSVP to Christina Markish at cmarkish@menokin.org. A reception will follow.