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Rebirth begins at Monroe site
Visitors center going up at Monroe Birthplace, plans call for rebuilding former president's childhood home next

 Joey Adock and Jason Horton put a roof on a new visitors center at the James Monroe Birthplace. It will be finished in time to mark Monroe's 250th birthday next year.
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Date published: 12/5/2007


After decades of fits and starts to honor the birthplace of James Monroe, a new visitors center is rising in the Westmoreland County woods where the fifth president of the United States roamed as a boy centuries ago.

Built of modern materials such as steel, glass, insulated roof panels and concrete siding, the 1,000-square-foot center will look like an 18th-century tobacco barn. It will contain exhibits about Monroe and bathroom facilities for visitors.

Milton Martin, a planning consultant for Westmoreland County, said the center on State Route 205 near Colonial Beach will be completed next year in time for Monroe's 250th birthday celebration.

"Visitors to the new center will be able to learn a lot more about it and Monroe than they could by just stopping on the road," Martin said. "It will offer a different perspective on how Westmoreland County was in the 18th century."

The center, plus its driveway and new entrances, cost the county about $300,000. Another $200,000 came from federal grants, Martin said.

Near the new visitor center, a replica of the modest house where Monroe was born in 1758 may begin to rise next year upon the buried foundations of the original house, said G. William Thomas Jr., president of the James Monroe Memorial Foundation.

Historically minded residents of Westmoreland County have been trying for 70 years to develop a Monroe memorial at the site.

The James Monroe Foundation joined forces in 2005 with Westmoreland County. The foundation leased 10 acres of the site for 99 years. In addition to rebuilding the house and staffing the visitor center, the foundation hopes to create an 18th-century farm on the 75-acre, county-owned site.

An important decision for its future may come today in Richmond when two state historic-preservation boards consider revising the landmark status of the birthplace site.

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Born April 28, 1758, in Westmoreland, James Monroe left his birthplace at the age of 16 to attend the College of William & Mary and never lived in the county again.

He fought with distinction in the Continental Army and practiced law in Fredericksburg before becoming the fifth president of the United States (1817-25). He also served as U.S. secretary of state, secretary of war, ambassador to England and to Spain, and governor of Virginia.

His most famous legacy is the Monroe Doctrine, which warned European powers not to interfere in the Western Hemisphere.

ONLINE: For more information about the James Monroe Foundation and its plans, or to make a donation, go to monroefoundation .org/birthplace.html.