GLOUCESTER — Fairfield Foundation co-directors Dave Brown and Thane Harpole have been dreaming about Fairfield Archaeology Park for two decades, soon after establishing their educational outreach organization in 2000.
On Friday, June 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., a grand opening celebration will mark the unveiling of the completed protective structure over the manor house foundations at Fairfield Archaeology Park , located at 5777 Fairfield Lane in Hayes.
A dedication and recognition program will take place from 11 a.m. to noon, and visitors can come out to participate in hands-on archaeology, view exhibits, hike a trail, and talk with historic interpreters. Food trucks will also be on hand.
“This new structure will help protect the 300-year-old brick foundation of the Burwell/Thruston manor,” said Brown. Fairfield was built in 1694 and burned to the ground in 1897. “In addition, it will make it easier to interpret the building to the public and continue excavations within the house footprint.”
As archaeology students and young professionals, Brown and Harpole knew the manor, one of the largest 17th-century dwellings in Virginia, was of great interest to architectural historians.
They reached out to the family of Gerard B. Lambert, a distant relative of the Burwells, who purchased the 230-acre core of Fairfield Plantation (also known as Carter’s Creek) in the 1930s. With permission from Stacy B. Lloyd III, the property owner and Lambert’s grandson, they began to intensively research the site and work there with students, volunteers, and the public to understand the evolution of this complex plantation landscape.
Soon, the Fairfield Foundation branched out to offer public archaeology and educational outreach at other historic sites and schools across the Middle Peninsula and surrounding areas.
“My career started there over 10 years ago, and Fairfield holds a special place in my heart. Dave and Thane’s dream for an Archaeology Park for students and learners of all ages soon became my dream too,” said Anna Rhodes, Fairfield’s Senior Staff Archaeologist.
The Fairfield Archaeology Park aims to be a place where students and volunteers can continue to participate in hands-on learning about Gloucester’s history and the science of archaeology during public dig days, school field trips and summer camps. Summer interns and fellows can hone skills and conduct archaeological research on the site, and locals and visitors to the area can participate in public digs, take tours, or enjoy hikes on new trails being installed across the landscape.
“Fairfield Archaeology Park became possible in 2018 after Stacy B. Lloyd III generously bequeathed the 230-acre property to our nonprofit.” Harpole added, “Archaeology at the park helps us explore the contributions and legacies of all the people who lived on this property across the centuries.”
Since 2019, grants from the Cabell Foundation, the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation, and matching donations from many individual supporters helped build the protective structure.
Another matching grant from the Richard and Caroline T. Gwathmey Memorial Trust will fund an educational pavilion. Restrooms and utilities will eventually be installed.
“We deeply appreciate the generosity of these organizations and many individuals who
understand, like us, that preservation of the past is important because it helps us understand present-day values, events, and relationships,” said Brown. “We are passionate about researching and interpreting history.”
At Fairfield Archaeology Park, artifacts tell the stories of three cultures — Indigenous, European, and African — who inhabited early Gloucester and Virginia. The things these people left behind inform our understanding of daily life and cultural interactions, the foundation said, both then and now.
For more information about Fairfield Foundation’s archaeology and historic preservation outreach programs, visit its webpage.