It has been a historical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual week at James Madison’s Montpelier. A group of 16 people came together to put their stamp on a historical experiment that has never taken place at a site like this before. We came together to reconstruct a slave cabin – rain, snow, shine or tornado watch!
We were aware of the thunderstorms expected today, so our last few logs were moved back to the barn for work. Before heading over to scrape and score, we walked to the Madison mansion to meet Bill Bichell, Facilities and Restoration Superintendent at Montpelier. We were able to have one more walk-thru of James and Dolley Madison’s 20,000 square foot house.
Many in our group also climbed up into the attic and into other nooks. Bill told us about the earthquake a few years back and how staff ran to the mansion to protect valuables. I can’t believe all of those busts sitting atop marble columns in the drawing room survived!
The “big house” is where most Montpelier tourists visit. But I believe once our slave cabin is complete, and the landscape here is reinterpreted, visitors will also travel up the path in the south yard to see where some other very important people lived, the people who built Montpelier.
Maxwell Shaw, traveled from Cumberland, Maryland to help rebuild the slave cabin. Maxwell will be turning 65-years-old in a couple of days, but today, he says he feels 85! “Everybody I know is waiting to see the photographs,” Maxwell says with a big laugh.
“I think there is something special to this. I have been around a lot of these national historic sites and noticed they don’t like to talk about slavery, don’t like to say the ‘word’ in many cases. I see this as a big step in the right direction, coming to grips with the past,” said Maxwell.
This has been the sentiment of several people visiting our work site this week. Katherine Malone-France is Director of Outreach, Education and Support in the Historic Sites Department of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She drove down with a colleague from Washington, DC to check-out the slave cabin reconstruction. She calls the project “powerful.”
“It’s just a really interesting, diverse group of people all working really hard, most of whom actually paid to be here!” She’s right. Our group includes an archaeologist, a small business owner, a DC lobbyist, a chemist, restorationists from other historic sites and me? We all secured $1,000 each to be here. The experience – priceless.