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Northern Neck historic site plans new visitor center and exhibits, mobile app, digital tours, 're-restoration' of Great House
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
The Robert E. Lee Memorial Association is embarking on the public phase of a $17 million campaign to replace Stratford Hall's visitor center, create digital tours and better restore the estate's Great House and gardens.
The "Securing a Place for the Past" campaign is already two-thirds of the way toward its goal, having raised $10.1 million in donations and pledges from the association's board of directors, Stratford Hall officials said at a press conference Wednesday in the dining room of the 2,000-acre Potomac River estate in the Northern Neck.
"We are excited about the impact this campaign will have for the future of Stratford Hall and its visitors," said Custis Glover, president of the association's board and a Lee family descendant. "This campaign is not about just a single new building, exhibit or room restoration, but will ensure a new visitor experience to everyone who visits Stratford Hall."
The fundraising effort, which began in 2008--the first year of the Great Recession--is the largest undertaking in recent decades at Stratford Hall, birthplace of Civil War general Robert E. Lee.
At its core is a $5 million, two-story visitor center and user-driven smartphone and iPod Touch tours that offer a variety of choices and materials for adults and children.
The 21,700-square-foot visitor center, built on the site of a smaller, early-1970s center, will have areas for hands-on, permanent and changing exhibitions, plus a cafe, meeting and office spaces, and climate-controlled storage for museum collections.
To entice more families and younger visitors, Stratford is developing "Mii" tours to enable visitors to focus on particular interests. They will be able to investigate the scenic landscape, which includes 2 miles of Potomac River frontage, and see the Great House's interiors through the eyes of a Lee family member, slave or museum professional. The new digital tours will complement the plantation's traditional guided tours.
"Visitors are already beginning to see the impact this campaign will have on the future of preserving Stratford for future generations," said Executive Director Paul C. Reber.
Recent improvements in the Great House include restoration of its Great Hall, North-West Stair Passage and Parlor. The latter was featured this month during a three-day cultural landscape symposium on "Discovering the Virginia Parlor 1730-1800," which drew scholars, historians and others from throughout the Mid-Atlantic.