Monday, October 20, 2003

Rennovating Historic Homes

The Washington Post has an interesting article about plans to renovate Montpelier.

Long story short: Montpelier was James Madison's home and is in central Virginia near Jefferson's Monticello and Poplar Forest, as well as near James Monroe's Ash Lawn. It was purchased at some point by the du Ponts and turned into a fantastic horse country estate. It is currently open in a mishmash state of being; some parts are restored to Madison's era, others remain in the 1920s du Pont decor (including the fantastic red horse room), much of it is in a state of attempting-to-figure-out-what-existed-when. It's a fascinating place to visit to see different building techniques through the ages and the architectural investigation is being done in a way that visitors can get a good idea of what's being looked for and found.

Now, however, the foundation has worked out a deal to rip out the du Pont parts of the house to restore it to Madson's home. That's cool, but it also seems a bit of a shame to lose everything that's newer and the history of that, as well as to lose the mess of the architectural investigation.

Washington's Mount Vernon and George Mason's Gunston Hall are both fully restored and beautiful places, but it's neat to see the work in progress too. That's one thing that's neat about the restoration of Poplar Forest: They plan to leave two rooms unplastered so that people can see the raw brick and timbers and how the house is constructed. Similarly, Rosalie and George Calvert's Riversdale is largely refinished although many rooms remain unfurnished and a lot of detail work still needs to be done, but they are keeping one room reminiscent of how it was in the early/mid 1900s when it was a boarding house that was home to at least one member of Congress.

At least the deal to rework Montpelier will build a new structure dedicated to the du Pont legacy on the site and that will recreate the red room, but it still seems like something is being lost ... even as a restored-to-Madison's-time Montpelier is gained.

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