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Stafford may get museum at Chatham Manor
Stafford and Park Service to seek partnership for a county museum at Chatham

 Stafford could move some of its historical material into the mansion overlooking the Rappahannock River.
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Date published: 10/10/2009


Stafford County and the National Park Service have agreed to a feasibility study that could establish a county museum at Chatham Manor, using some of that historical building's space and federal staff support.

It is seen as a vital step toward the future establishment of a permanent museum in the county.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to seek such a partnership. The feasibility group is expected to convene before the end of the year and take six to eight months to draw up a proposal.

"This is a win-win situation for everyone," said Russell P. Smith, superintendent of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, which includes Chatham. "This begins the process of telling the story of Stafford County in the broader picture."

M.C. Moncure, Stafford County's tourism manager, said the Chatham partnership "would enhance the visitors' experience in the area, not just that of the building itself but also of its role in the history of the county."

Jane Conner, a leader of the county historical society, expressed delight.

"I didn't think it would happen so soon," she said.

The large resources of the Stafford County Historical Society are mostly stored at the Stafford school bus maintenance center on Enon Road and in the attics and basements of members. There has been virtually no place to display their archives. The recently opened Museum-on-a-Wall at the new Stafford Medical Center presents a smidgen of the material.

The Museum Committee, from its share of the county's 5 percent occupancy tax, had built a $1 million reserve over the past three years. But in May, the supervisors, facing a $4 million deficit, took it back.

A parcel of land on Courthouse Road, half a mile west of U.S. 1, has been dedicated by the county as a museum site. But there is no money to build.

In May, Smith was before the Board of Supervisors to present an update.

During Smith's remarks, Supervisor Harry Crisp told him about possible partnerships between the National Park Service and the coun-ty's tourism office. Smith "warmly received" the suggestion.

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Chatham was built between 1768 and 1771, overlooking the Rappahannock River and Fredericksburg, and was host to three once-or-future presidents--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. It also was a Union command center and hospital during the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Red Cross founder Clara Barton was a nurse there. Poet Walt Whitman was a nurse's aide.

The property's first owner was William Fitz-hugh, a colleague of Washington's in Virginia's House of Burgesses. The house passed through more than five families, was repaired after the Civil War and was bought in 1931 by industrialist John D. Pratt, who died in 1978. He had no heirs and willed the property to the National Park Service.

The once-vast plantation now contains 50 acres.