By BETSY FICKLIN
The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities issued an announcement last Friday that the James Monroe Birthplace in Westmoreland County has been placed on that organization’s list of Virginia’s most endangered properties.
Each year growing numbers of historic properties are lost to what APVA describes as “inappropriate development or the ravages of time.” Losses include landscapes, irreplaceable buildings and even neighborhoods and towns.
APVA’s most endangered listings are part of the organization’s effort to focus attention on Virginia’s most at-risk historic resources and a portion of the former Monroe family farm in Westmoreland County may very soon become the site of a major residential subdivision.
“There have been numerous attempts by various groups to honor the fifth President of our United States, James, Monroe, by preserving the site of his birth in Westmoreland County,” APVA states in its opening remarks about the former Monroe family farm’s designation as a most endangered site.
“Monroe lived for sixteen formative years on his family’s farm before leaving for his education at The College of William and Mary. An 1845 etching of the birth home and archaeology substantiate James Monroe’s humble beginnings.
Monroe was one of the country’s greatest presidents whose eight-year term ushered in ‘the era of good feeling.’ Although Washington’s birth in Westmoreland County has been deservedly recognized, Monroe’s continues to receive scant attention.”
APVA relates that “Westmoreland County in 2001 commissioned preparation of a master plan for multi-phase development of the James Monroe Birthplace site. In 2005, the County signed a 99-year lease with the James Monroe Memorial Foundation to allow the Foundation to restore the birthplace farmhouse and establish an educational visitor center.
“The County, however, has recently approved the rezoning of adjacent property from A-1 to R-3, undermining the effort to retain the landscape in honor of our country’s past president. The current developer’s plan calls for a subdivision of 85 homes on 50 foot-wide lots. The adverse impact of this development on the Birthplace site will be enormous.
“Recognition of the plight of the James Monroe Birthplace would help thwart the encroachment of the adjacent housing development and recapture ‘the era of good feeling’ and the integrity of Monroe’s place in American history.”
James Monroe Memorial Foundation President Bill Thomas weighed in on the Monroe farm property’s new historic designation. “The Foundation welcomes APVA’s efforts to preserve the Monroe Farm as a special place in Westmoreland County for future generations.”
Thomas went on to state that the old Monroe farm property is an icon symbolizing liberty, freedom and all the things Monroe championed “throughout his many years of unselfish public service to this nation, from the Revolutionary War to creating the Monroe Doctrine which memorializes his name and impacts on freedom throughout the hemisphere, serving as the cornerstone of American foreign policy since 1823.
“Beginning in 1650, Westmoreland County was home to the Monroe family. The Monroe homestead shaped and helped to expand this founding father’s life and we plan,” the Foundation President told The Journal, “to educate here on this history and culture in order to give broader light and understanding to future generations.
“Understanding the past brings compassion to our reaching out to others. We are proud of our partnership with many public spirited citizens and organizations and local and state government. We appreciate the support of U.S. Congresswoman JoAnn Davis, who was with us again at our Monroe Day program on April 29.
“The APVA recognition teaches us that we should not repeat the mistakes of the past. At Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, at great expense, the adjacent subdivision is now being bought back in order to return it to the natural setting our third President knew so well. The Monroe farm is endangered now because a significant portion of it was rezoned this year for a subdivision for 85 homes on fifty foot wide lots.”