It’s an understatement of the century to say that Westmoreland County is steeped in history, from places like George Washington’s birthplace at Wakefield to the ancestral home of the Lees at Stratford Hall. Given the impact of our first President, as well as that of the Lees, it’s quite easy for some of the other historical sites in the county to get lost in the shuffle.
For the past few years, the James Monroe Memorial Foundation has been seeking to remedy that. Much like Washington, Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, his birthplace laying just down the road from Colonial Beach. For the past few years, a reproduction of the house he grew up in was under construction at the site, and if the letter sent by George William Thomas Jr, the Foundation’s president, is any indication, it is almost ready for its grand opening on October 2 this year.
The site has already been in a state of “soft open” since 2020, and has been giving small guided tours as well as historical presentations and interpretations. The folks that run the visitor center are all enthusiastic volunteers, led by Bucky Doerr of Colonial Beach. Despite the pandemic, hundreds paid a visit in 2020, and this year, that number has increased to almost a thousand, with visitors coming from all over the country, and in some cases, the world. There are no entrance fees involved either, and it is clear that the project is a labor of love for many involved.
All the while, construction work at the birthplace moved on, albeit at a much slower pace than was normal, thanks in no small part to the pandemic. As of last month, the interior work had been completed, with the exception of some outlets for sconces which should be installed by October when the grand opening takes place. There are several projects outside that still need to be complete, such as landscaping and a handicap access ramp.
The site has also been the location of annual Monroe Day celebrations in late April, with Monroe scholars, along with Presidents from the College of William and Mary, Mary Washington University, and the Monticello Foundation, paying a visit to the birthplace, along with over a dozen other historical groups. Many of those groups are liable to make a showing for the grand opening, which will be taking place throughout the day and will feature a wreath-laying ceremony at 10 AM. House tours will also be conducted through the day for several lineage groups, such as the SAR and DAR, who have been very consistent donors to the project.