Homegrown historian finds his past connections while connecting others

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J. Michael Moore at his favorite redoubt at the Yorktown Battlefield, Redoubt 9 (Jennifer Holden/WYDaily)
J. Michael Moore at his favorite redoubt at the Yorktown Battlefield, Redoubt 9 (Jennifer Holden/WYDaily)

A few years ago, while giving a lecture on the Civil War, local historian J. Michael Moore had a moment of pure serendipity connecting him to his past.

Glancing into the attentive eyes of attendees at the Christopher Newport University event, he recognized, much to his surprise, his ninth grade world history teacher, Don Mollenhauer in the audience, staring back at him.

Mollenhauer listened carefully, much in the way Moore used to listen to him in high school.

“I hadn’t seen Mr. Mollenhauer since 1988, and here he was, listening to my lecture,” Moore said, now 47 years old. “I had my chance to publicly say thank you to someone who really made a difference in my life by encouraging me to pursue my love of history during high school.”

With a passion born during his youth and days as teenager at Menchville High School, where Mollenhauer taught, Moore has since spent the greater part of two decades connecting people with their past.

As curator of Lee Hall Mansion and Endview Plantation and co-author of two books, the local historian is in his element educating the public on the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

Moore’s parents, Martha and Jim Moore had always valued education.  They help to give Moore rich experiences and planned their family vacations around acquiring knowledge.

“We did all sorts of heritage tourism when I was growing up, he said. “In addition to the Historic Triangle, we visited places like the Manassas Battlefield, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Appomattox, you name it.”

While attending Bicentennial celebrations in 1976 as a young boy, his interest in history peaked.

Moore received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Christopher Newport University and later earned a Master of Arts in history from Old Dominion University.

One of his first jobs in the City of Newport News was as a part-time archivist at the Virginia War Museum and word spread there was a new kid in town.

J. Michael Moore, Lee Hall Mansion./Photo by Jennifer Holden
J. Michael Moore, Lee Hall Mansion. (Jennifer Holden/WYDaily)

At the time, John Quarstein, current director of the USS Monitor Center at The Mariner’s Museum and Park, was working as the administrator of the City of Newport News Historic Services Division. He received a phone call from a colleague letting him know there was someone he might want to interview for a position at Lee Hall Mansion.

Quarstein liked what he saw — someone who could assist him with refurbishing Lee Hall Mansion. Moore poured himself into researching and restoring Lee Hall, one of the last remaining antebellum homes on the Virginia Peninsula.

“Michael is meticulous with his research, and that’s a great skill, a necessary skill in this field. He’s an outstanding tour guide and lecturer who has the ability to make people see and feel historical moments in time,” Quarstein said.

The two have coauthored a book together: Yorktown’s Civil War Siege: Drums Along the Warwick.

Drew Gruber, current executive director of Civil War Trails and interim director of Williamsburg Battlefield Association refers to Moore as a “rock star in the museum world.”

When the self-proclaimed Civil War buff moved into the area, an associate pointed him in the direction of Moore.

“I just showed up at Lee Hall. He dropped everything, laid a map out for me and told me everything I needed to know about the Civil War in the area. Moore has been an invaluable partner of Civil War Trails,” said Gruber.

Moore taking a stroll at Yorktown Beach./Photo by Jennifer Holden.
Moore taking a stroll at Yorktown Beach (Jennifer Holden/WYDaily)

In addition to Virginia, Moore has given battlefield tours in Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia. A normal ‘day at the office’ may consist of conducting military staff rides for U.S. and Canadian Armed Forces, conducting historic house tours or facilitating reenactments.

He’s had a hand in editing numerous books as well as coauthoring two.

A resident of Historic Yorktown for 16 years, Moore enjoys Yorktown Battlefield, not just for the history, but because he considers it his backyard, or playground, as the case may be.

For more information on Lee Hall Mansion and Endview Plantation, please visit leehall.org and endview.org.

Read more profiles of local residents in WYDaily’s section In Our Hometown

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