VIRGINIA BEACH — He was a Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War, and before he sought refuge in Canada, John Saunders owned what we now know as Pembroke Manor.
Today, the property at 520 Constitution Drive is listed for sale and resident William Thompson is rallying other Virginia Beach residents with hopes they’ll buy-in and help him raise $600,000 to transform the home into a public museum.
“I just want to preserve the history of Virginia Beach and America before it loses its historic value,” Thompson said. “I’m just a guy who saw something that needs to be saved.”
According to the original 1969 “National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form,” the property was seized in 1779 after Saunders was declared a “British subject” by the Princess Anne County Committee of Safety and sold by Gov. Thomas Jefferson in 1781.
The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and is on the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Saunders inherited the estate from his father Jonathan who was born in then Princess Anne County, and in 1764, built the “fine example of Georgian architecture” said Mark Reed, the city’s historic preservation planner.
“Pembroke has never achieved the recognition it deserves as a significant achievement of colonial Virginia building,” James Moody Jr. wrote in 1969 as the director of the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission.
With crowdfunds raised, Thompson said he’d curate displays to include equipment used by British soldiers and would stage the more than 5,000-square-foot mansion in a way that would take visitors on a walking tour through time starting with the 1760s and ending in modern-day Virginia Beach.
Anne Miller, the city’s history museum coordinator, said she’d be excited to see the historic home preserved and opened to the public as a “real teaching tool.”
“It would really reinforce the significance of the Loyalists’ story to our history,” she said.
Remnants of the mansion’s most recent use as a school can be seen in real estate property listing photos with the massive basement Thompson said has the potential to become a cafe in the nonprofit museum.
“I’d love to see kids go through there and watch them light up like I once did on field trips to Williamsburg,” he said.
For more information, or to help Thompson transform Pembroke Manor into a public museum, click here.