Coming Soon! William Shakespeare’s “King Lear”

King Lear

Shakespeare on the Lawn at Kenmore returns this June with four performances of the popular drama, King Lear, performed by The Fredericksburg Players and directed by Fred Franklin.

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s most heart-breaking tragedies—the story of a father who puts his faith in his two treacherous, elder daughters while casting out his youngest daughter, the only one that he truly loves. The play features conniving relatives and secret plots. It concludes with the deaths of the King’s advisor, all three of his daughters, and of course, Lear himself.

As Kenmore prepares for another summer of the Bard, Lives & Legacies shares a few posters from past theatrical performances at Kenmore.

Be sure to watch for forthcoming details about more summertime Shakespeare coming in August to Kenmore!

Building George’s House: The Foundation Stones – Splitting the Stone

Master Stonemason Ray Cannetti and his crew split large sandstone boulders into smaller pieces that will then be dressed into foundation stones for an interpretive replica of George Washington’s boyhood home soon to be constructed at Ferry Farm.

The George Washington Foundation has begun a multi-year venture to building this interpretive replica of the Washington house on its archaeological footprint.  The first phase of the project will also reconstruct the kitchen, the enslaved quarters structure, and an outbuilding as well as recreate the period landscape.

Photos: Our Urban Nature at Historic Kenmore

Nature shaped the lives of English colonists and enslaved Africans living and working at Kenmore Plantation 200 years ago.  Over centuries, humans changed Kenmore’s natural world from a plantation setting into an urban green space. Yet, nature remains just outside the door.

This past Saturday at Historic Kenmore, visitors had a chance to explore humans’ dynamic relationship with nature through the years during Our Urban Nature.  They discovered — in some cases, held — the wildlife living right in town with Fredericksburg Parks & Recreation. They explored the meaning behind the color of the river’s water with Friends of the Rappahannock. Visitors learned about worm composting with the Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board. They dug into the importance of dirt with the Tri-County/City Soil and Water Conservation District. Visitors also enjoyed a native plant and urban geology walk through the neighborhood and learned how to build terrariums from found objects and plants. Kids created a food web mobile, fairy houses, and built their own river.

Dining Room vs. Dining Room

Several months ago, Historic Kenmore concluded the refurnishing effort in the Dining Room.  After painstaking research and scientific investigation, that room has been returned to a state that would be immensely familiar to Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis.

It might look somewhat unfamiliar, however, to later occupants of Kenmore.  The first picture below was taken sometime between 1880 and 1902 when the Howard family occupied the house.

When, in 1881, Kenmore was purchased by Mr. William Key Howard of Maryland, the place was in deplorable condition.

Kenmore suffered considerable damage to its ornamental plaster ceilings during the Civil War. Young William K. Howard, Jr. urged his father to allow him to repair them. When scaffoldings were built, the artistic lad worked long and patiently making his own molds for replacement elements when needed.

The Howards saved the ceiling but, naturally, their goal was not to return the building to its colonial-era appearance.  When Kenmore became a historic house museum, changes still had to be made over many decades to achieve a historically accurate décor that closely resembles the one the Lewises would have known in the late 1700s.

The second picture shows the dining room as it appears today after meticulous restoration and refurnishing.  Comparing the two photos, we see the biggest architectural change to the room was the removal of the gothic arched niches on each side of the fireplace.  The arches were returned to the original square doors.

The narrow oak flooring, which replaced the original floor stained with the blood of Civil War soldiers who received medical treatment at Kenmore, was itself replaced with heart pine flooring.  Late last year, the floor was covered with a beautiful replica 18th century carpet.

Decorative coal grating and surrounding bricks were removed from the fireplaces making them larger.

The wood molding put on the walls to create false panels was removed and replaced with plaster molding whose original location was found during removal of paint during restoration work.

Those are just a few of the changes both large and small that can be seen when comparing these two photos.  The changes occurred over many decades and involved many dedicated people but each started, in many ways, with the Howards.  They and all the rest of us who have spent our days at Kenmore have taken something old and made it new again.

Heather Baldus, Collections Manager
Zac Cunningham, Manager of Educational Programs

Our Urban Nature: It’s Just Outside the Door

Humans are an inescapable part of nature.  It shapes us and we shape it.  Most of us can see this dynamic relationship when looking back 200 years.  It is easier to appreciate the centrality of nature in the lives of 18th century planters, farmers, and enslaved people whose livelihoods and bellies depended on good weather for growing crops.  Time was governed by the sun and the seasons.  Commerce depended on domesticated animals to pull wagons and on wind to drive sailing ships.

At its most basic, history is the study of change over time.  As we study, we tend to focus on the changes within the very human realms of politics, society, and culture.  We relate more to the lives and stories of fellow human beings like George Washington, Betty Washington Lewis, or Fielding Lewis.  These humans, however, sparked other more subtle changes far outside human realms.  Human history has drastically altered the natural world while nature itself has actively shaped human history.

When Fielding Lewis finished building the mansion that would become Kenmore in 1775, it stood at the heart of a large plantation, an actively managed world of agricultural fields and livestock mixed with natural flora and fauna.  Over two centuries, humans slowly changed Kenmore from a plantation into an urban green space now nestled in the midst of a dense residential neighborhood. Hundreds of houses rest where slaves once toiled, crops once grew, and cows once pastured.

Spring time in the gardens at Kenmore Plantation

Yet, nature hasn’t disappeared.  It remains right outside all of our doors.  We can find it in our beautiful flower gardens and backyard birdhouses, in the squirrel nests atop the oak tree across the street, and in the weeds pushing up through sidewalk cracks and overtaking the front lawn.

The term weed itself is an excellent example of the dynamic relationship between humans and nature.  Today, weeds are plants we loath as undesirable nuisances.  Yet, these weeds exist because at one time, we viewed them as useful and even desirable.  Weeds and humans have fascinating interrelated histories.

Urban Nature Native Plants (1)

Dandelion is native to the Americas.  Early Americans steeped teas from the dry root and desperate Civil War soldiers used roasted dandelion root as a coffee substitute.  Even though it took a lot of time to gather them, people throughout history have used the flowers to make dandelion wine.

Urban Nature Native Plants (2)

European colonists introduced Clover because it served as an excellent pasture crop for consumption by livestock.

Urban Nature Native Plants (5)

Wild Garlic was introduced as a spice, which Native Americans quickly adopted.

Urban Nature Native Plants (4)

Purple Deadnettle was found across Eurasia but it is not clear who exactly introduced it into the Americas.  Colonial Americans valued deadnettle, in part, for its medicinal purposes as it could stop bleeding.  Its flowers contain a lot of sweet nectar as well and, thus, people in the past often used them to make sweet teas.

If you want to learn more about native plants and other aspects of Our Urban Nature, join us from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 16 at Historic Kenmore.  Discover what wildlife are living right in town with Fredericksburg Parks & Recreation. Explore the meaning behind the color of the river’s water with Friends of the Rappahannock.  Learn about worm composting with the Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board.  Dig into the importance of dirt with the Tri-County/City Soil and Water Conservation District.  Visitors can enjoy a native plant and urban geology walk and learn how to build a terrarium from found objects and plants.  Kids can create a food web mobile, fairy houses, and build their own river.

Additionally, George Washington’s Ferry Farm will host native plant walks later this summer on June 6 and then again on September 18.

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist/Ceramics and Glass Specialist
Zac Cunningham, Manager of Educational Programs