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Stratford Hall

Stratford Hall is located in Westmoreland County, Virginia. It was the plantation house of four generations of the Lee family of Virginia.

It was the boyhood home of two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee, and Francis Lightfoot Lee. And it was the birthplace of Robert Edward Lee, who was a longtime military officer in the US Army and the Confederate Army. Robert E. Lee later became the president of Washington College, which later became Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. The estate was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

The main house is completely symmetrical. It has 18 rooms and 16 fireplaces. You are see how all the chimneys come together in clusters of four on either side of the house. The house was built in 1730s, and it along with the outbuildings are all still standing.

There were several owners of the property after the Lees left and the foundation which runs the site is in the process of restoring the house and property back to how it would have appeared when the Lees were there. This has involved removing and rebuilding features in some rooms of the house. Investigation has revealed 23 layers of paint in some of the rooms. And they are repainting to the original colors.

In the house, lots of trades were represented. The kitchen, staffed by slaves and indentured servants. It typically it would take a servant 7 years to pay off their indenture. And they then likely would stay on as paid staff. There were also weavers. Cotton was not grown in this area of Virginia, so they had to import it.  The Lees also had a schoolteacher who lived in the house to teach the boys.

There was, of course, a birthing room with a nursery adjoining it to accommodate all the children born to the many generations of Lees who lived in the house. Robert E. Lee only lived in the house until he was 4 years old.

In addition to the house restoration, they are restoring the grounds and gardens. There are formal gardens as well as vegetable gardens. And surrounding the house and the gardens are a series of "ha-ha walls" which have been reconstructed. A ha-ha wall is a low wall with a recessed area on the other side. These walls served to keep the livestock out been maintain an unobstructed view.

There was a wharf and mill down on the Potomac River which was an active area for merchant ships. The wharf area and mill were destroyed by a hurricane in 1769. Only the the mill was reconstructed.

The area along the Potomac (as is typical in this area) is mostly cliffs. Towering about 100 feet above the river, they contain many, many layers of fossils and shells deposited 16 million years ago. On my short walk along the beach, I was able to find a fossilized shark tooth. Pretty cool.

Stratford Hall is a bit off the beaten path, but definitely worth the travel. The staff and volunteers were exceedingly nice and extremely grateful for people to visit.


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