By Janet Abbott Fast
Clumps of bright yellow daffodils and soft purple wood hyacinths bloom on the multi-level terraces of the ruins of Menokin. Were the old bulbs planted more than 200 years ago, when Francis Lightfoot Lee and his bride first inhabited the home?
That is one of many questions Martin K. King, of Warsaw, wants to answer as he undertakes the rebuilding of Menokin. In addition to rebuilding the structure, he envisions this as a place where folks will be able to study birds, plants and butterflies as they were in earlier times.
When most folks think of Francis Lightfoot Lee, (or Frank, as he preferred to be called) they associate him with Stratford Plantation of Westmoreland County. He grew up at Stratford and when he married he was given 1,000 acres of land in Richmond County.
In 1769 Lee married Rebecca Tayloe, daughter of Col. John Tayloe II. The couple was given land adjacent to Mt. Airy as a wedding gift. With the land came plans to build a house similar to Mt. Airy, smaller in design.
The house was completed in 1773 and the couple moved in and lived their
entire married life at Menokin.
He was elected to serve as a member of the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, representing Loudon County. While there he met Rebecca Tayloe. After they married and moved to Richmond County, he was elected to represent the county in Williamsburg.
At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War he was elected to represent Virginia in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. In 1776, he and his brother, Richard Henry Lee, were the only siblings to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Ten years earlier, in 1766, in Westmoreland County, he signed the Leedstown Resolves, which were a protest against unfair taxation, and a predecessor of the Declaration of Independence. It was the Northern Neck’s Boston Tea Party.
Records indicate the site of the Menokin land was patented in 1657 by John Stephens. It was part of Rappahannock County, before Richmond County was born. “On the side of the creek where the Indians live,” was the description of the 1,000 acres at Menokin Bay on Cat Point Creek.
Through the years the home fell into disrepair, and was abandoned. The Omohundro family, who owned the property, decided to save it. They asked Martin King for ideas and suggestions and thus the Menokin Foundation was born.
Edgar Omohundro , from Lyells, and his sister, Dora Riccardi, were the last owners. When Dora died, Edgar wanted to rebuild Menokin as a memorial to her.
Edgar had the foresight to strip the original woodwork, wainscoting, chair rails, crown molding, doors, shutters and all interior wood. He then stored and preserved them.
The 40 X 42 structure is more like a doll house, with features of a great mansion, muses King. “It’s really neat, I think.”
It has never had any modern conveniences, water, electricity, closets or cupboards. The only indication of convenience in the remaining structure was a place for a stove pipe, which was added later.
In addition to the wood, King also discovered the original plans had been donated to the Virginia Historical Society. It seems that Mrs. H. Gwynne (Polly) Tayloe, Jr., was cleaning when she first moved into Mt. Airy, and found the plans. They were among artifacts she donated to the museum.
Sandstone used in the original house is similar to that used to build Mt.
Airy. Since the inception of the foundation to restore Menokin, people
who had pieces of sandstone as souvenirs are returning them to the site.
© 1997 Janet Abbott Fast All Rights Reserved
Additional information about Menokin today is available at http://www.menokin.org/
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