Late last night, I learned about the Nomini Hall Fire via a friend on Facebook. Nomini Hall, once the home of Robert “King” Carter and Robert Carter III (who also owned the Carter House now owned by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Williamsburg, VA), has a lot of history that is very important to not only the Commonwealth of Virginia’s history, but to the history of the South and the nation as a whole. Unfortunately the house has yet to see another fire in it’s history and has been severely damaged as reported in the article linked above. Pictures show the front portion of the house as nothing but a skeleton with the chimneys surviving. It has made me think today of the value that we have – the “we” being historic sites and homes all over the world.
Nomini Hall is a place very near and dear to my own heart and mind. Longwood University (my undergraduate alma mater) has been excavating at the property since 1994 with Dr. James W. Jordan and Dr. Brian Bates. I completed my first archaeological excavation at Nomini Hall in the Spring of 2007 as a member of the field crew before becoming a Supervisor on other excavations from Fall 2007 through Spring 2009. Part of Nomini Hall’s appeal is the fact that, even though we know a lot about the house and property and are able to see a lot of the history through the landscape, there are still many secrets and things to be discovered. As an example: through the 5 excavations that I completed there we were never able to find the schoolhouse where Philip Vickers Fithian would have taught the Carter children. However, we were able to discover large walls (more than likely boundary walls), oyster shell pathways, and other items of interest. There were further excavations after I left Longwood University to attend graduate school in London, England where they were able to discover even more about the history of the property and the families who have lived there. In my Junior and Senior years at Longwood University I would write my first published article, as well as my Senior Honors Research Thesis, on Nomini Hall and how archival resources, particularly primary documents (such as Fithian’s journal) could be used in the discovery of our history.
Fithian, from New Jersey, would be the school teacher for the Carter children at Nomini Hall located in Westmoreland County, VA. During his time with the Carter’s he would write in a diary, which has now been published, detailing his normal daily routine, interactions between the children, and information on the property at Nomini Hall. He talks of the schoolhouse and quarters, a shady glen where he would find inspiration, the local church and so much more. The information one can piece together about the history of Nomini Hall and the Carter’s just from reading his diary is fascinating, as you not only learn about one of Virginia’s, and the country’s, important families and the place they lived, but also about the culture of the time. But again, even with all of this information, there is still so much to learn about Nomini Hall.
It is the same thing at Historic Bath Site, as well as all of the other historic homes and sites throughout the country and the world. There is always so much more to learn. I often tell visitors when we don’t know the answers to some of their questions that it’s a GOOD thing we don’t know everything. The story is never finished. There is always more to learn and to experience, not just personally but as a community, a state and a nation. There are secrets in each historic home that may never be uncovered….but it’s the possibility that these untold stories MAY come to light that stirs many of our hearts and minds. And with that stirring of the heart and mind comes the want and need to continue to protect and preserve our historic homes and sites throughout the world.
Will we ever find out where the schoolhouse’s location is at Nomini Hall? Will Blackbeard’s severed head ever be found? Is it possible that we will find a summer kitchen at the Palmer-Marsh House? What other stories are there to be discovered at places like Mount Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, Jamestown and Plymouth? Which location really holds Noah’s Ark? What really did happen to the the young King and the Duke at the Tower of London?
Will we ever know the answer to these questions?
The value of historic sites and homes is found in the things we all ready know, the things that we are to learn and the things that we will never know.