UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 07 Winter 17 Library
Sanjay Suchak

Highland’s Past and Our Future

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History lives, and breathes! That lesson has never been more true than it is today at James Monroe’s Albemarle County estate Highland, where a recent archaeological bombshell uncovered the home that hundreds of thousands have touredwas not, in fact, the fifth President’s home, but a guest house. The remains of the much larger main house, it was discovered, are buried elsewhere on the grounds. While a boon for archaeologists, the discovery presented an interesting series of challenges for Highland officials, who now had to look at revamping the entire visitor experience to reflect the new reality. They turned to the UVA School of Architecture, and specifically to professor Lisa Reilly and the 14 students in her course Strategies of Interpretation: Highland. The students had a series of meetings with Highland Executive Director Sara Bon Harper, as well as architectural historian Carl Lounsbury and others involved in the groundbreaking discovery. Lounsbury, a faculty member at William & Mary, shared stories and examples of the historical sleuthing that helped uncover the mystery, including scientific examination of the building materials which showed them to be significantly older than the 1799 construction date of the current structure. The students then shifted their focus from the past to the present and the future by imagining new ways to tell visitors the story of the home. They split into four groups, each with its own distinct focus on how to revise the tour of the existing house, using cutting edge technology that will allow visitors to experience Monroe’s original homestead throughout what promises to be a long and careful period of excavation. Students also focused on how to revamp the site’s current guided tour to reflect the property’s newly-refined story, even as it is being revealed.


(Photo: Sanjay Suchak)
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