Just outside Warsaw down a road named for it sits Menokin, the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee and his wife Rebecca Tayloe. Lee, who was born in Westmoreland County at Stratford Hall, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Leedstown Resolves.
The work going to preserve his 18th century home on the plantation in Richmond County could be described as fascinating. The home, which was a gift from Rebecca’s father, John Tayloe II, is one of the few buildings from that period to have architectural drawings still available.
Presently Menokin is undergoing a rehabilitation under the auspices of Machado Silvetti. The remaining structure is being shored up and rebuilt only not in the traditional manner. Menokin is becoming and open structure to allow for more in-depth study by those who visit it.
While about 25 percent of the original building and two freestanding chimneys are still in place even more of the original stones, bricks, and wood structures still exist. Much of the woodwork is in storage on site.
However the team is not using that to rebuilt it; it is becoming a glass house. Structural glass along with steel support beams will be used to allow visitors to not only see the building as it stands, but also through to the plantation land beyond it.
Built in 1769-1771 the home stood in the middle of a 1,000 acre plantation home to Francis and Rebecca as well as the men and women they enslaved to work the land within. The land has been reduced by half over sales throughout the years, but it still sits among working fields with corn to your right as you enter the gravel road that brings you off Menokin road onto the property.
The visitor’s center is the first stop for all visitors on the property although it is closed presently due to COVID-19.
Exploring the house at Menokin, at a distance, is a study in the past. In some of the interior brickwork, as the outside was stone which is unusual for Virginia in that time period, there are still fingerprints from when they were made. The wooden fixtures show the mark of the tools used to carve them into the shapes they still sit in.
Most of the materials, sandstone, brick, and wood was from the local area and the banks of the Rappahannock River.
The Rappahannock Tribe originally lived on the land now known as Menokin. In fact, Menokin is a word from their language whose definition has been lost through time.
The tribe owns a land trust nearby in Indian Hook where their cultural center stands and they have plans for a future museum. In 2018 the tribe, along with six other Virginia tribes, finally received Federal recognition.
Menokin was built by enslaved men who painstakingly handcrafted the bricks, nails, and structures over the two-year process. In memory of the men, women and children who were suffered through chattel slavery on the land, there stands the Remembrance Structure.
Directly on top of the ruins of a building where enslaved people lived, the timber structure was built to resemble other homes of the enslaved from the time.
During the time, the white fabric stretched over the timbers softens the light inside. At night, solar lights illuminate the airy structure giving it an ethereal feeling.
Menokin came into the hands of the Menokin Foundation in 1995. The steel canopy above it was erected in 2000 to help preserve it. Much of the woodwork was removed in the 1960s but stored until it could be brought back to be replaced.
Now as the property sits, the woodwork is in storage, stones from the home sit in piles as they are laid out according to where they likely stood before the house came to ruin.
In 2019 a grant was awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities for the project.
The project is expected to be complete by 2023.
Lee was not only a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Leedstown Resolves but also a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Virginia State Senate and was a representative to the First Continental Congress.
Lee and Brother Richard Henry Lee were the only two brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence. Francis Lee and his wife had no children. However, his brother named a son Francis Lee II after him and the name continued on from there.