Martinsville, Virginia


VMNH Provides Disaster Relief to Partner Museum

Staff at the Virginia Museum of Natural History recently came to the aid of museum colleagues at the Fairfield Foundation in Gloucester County, Virginia, following flooding at the Rosewell Foundation visitor center and archaeology lab due to a massive plumbing leak. The lab houses collections from both the Rosewell Foundation and Fairfield Foundation as well as artifacts from numerous historic and prehistoric sites from Eastern Virginia, in particular the Middle Peninsula.

The types of artifacts housed at the site include complete reconstructed historic ceramic vessels and bottles, food remains (mostly animal bones), and metal artifacts such as fragments of an iron stove, construction hardware, and a saw blade. The archaeological metals are particularly vulnerable to this type of disaster as an increase in moisture can quickly lead to rusting and decay. These objects provide a tangible tie to the past and provide evidence of the lives of the people who lived at these sites over the past several hundred years. Collections recovery efforts are still underway at the site, with two Virginia Museum of Natural History staff members recently traveling to the site to provide assistance.

Dr. Elizabeth Moore, curator of archaeology, and Research Librarian Mary Catherine Santoro arrived at the Rosewell Visitor Center Wednesday to assist with recovery of the object and paper collections.

"VMNH staff provided collections expertise as well as just basic manual labor," Moore said. "In any disaster, it can be extremely valuable to have someone from outside of your organization evaluate needs and help set priorities for salvage and recovery. That's where we were able to help. We were able to provide experience and guidance with collections and library materials and helping manage the many volunteers so that the managers were able deal with the other issues. Many museums or repositories have small or part-time staffs who simply cannot do all of the work themselves in an emergency such as this one. Museum disasters require the mobilization of many people with relevant knowledge pitching in to help their colleagues save the objects and documents that are so valuable to all of us as we strive to preserve our cultural heritage. I am proud that VMNH was able to provide this assistance."

The Rosewell and Fairfield Foundations work together to study these elaborate colonial plantations, the ancestral homes of the Page and Burwell families for more than 100 years. Both are known for their unique manor homes, begun in 1694 and 1725, respectively, and each symbolizing the architecture of their periods. Archaeological research at each plantation have revealed far more complex landscapes and complicated histories from the 17th through early 20th centuries, contributing significantly to our understanding of landscape design and the lives of enslaved Africans throughout this period. Fires destroyed both homes, in 1897 and 1916, leaving the current brick ruins at both sites.
"Any kind of disaster involving exposure to water poses a significant threat to paper materials," Santoro said. "Even those that don't come into direct contact with the water are at danger from mold from the increased humidity, and there is a limited window in which to respond before that mold will begin to grow. It's especially important to remove or treat any original documents, whether those are the historical records of the site or the notes made by the researchers as they work with the collection, as these are irreplaceable. We're very pleased that we were able to help our colleagues remove these materials to a secure location in a timely manner."

"The flooding was a significant threat to decades of archaeological research by both of our organizations, but especially to the accessibility of our collections to the hundreds of visitors and volunteers who visit our lab each year," said Fairfield Foundation Co-Director David Brown. "There are few organizations that permit the level of access to these amazing materials on Virginia's Middle Peninsula and it's a testament to the dedicated staff of the Virginia Museum of Natural History that they would be willing to drive such a distance to help another museum save its collections and protect them for future use. We are indebted to Elizabeth and M.C., as well as the many other organizations that volunteered their help and support."

Additional organizations providing assistance include Preservation Virginia, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Richmond chapter of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, the Mariner's Museum, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, the Virginia Association of Museums, Hampton University, Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust, Virginia History On-line, the Virginia Conservation Association - Maymont, the William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research, Dovetail CRG, and the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory.

For more information about Fairfield Foundation or to make an online donation to support the recovery effort, visit For more information about the Virginia Museum of Natural History, visit
About the Virginia Museum of Natural History

The Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville seeks to increase understanding of and appreciation for the natural history of the Commonwealth through education, research, collections, publications and exhibits. The museum - an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution - is accredited by the American Association of Museums, a distinction earned by fewer than 10 percent of museums in the United States. The museum is a member of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, Virginia Association of Museums, Heritage Preservation, and is an agency of the Secretary of Natural Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is closed on Sundays, as well as Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. Admission is $9 for adults; $7 for senior citizens and college students; $5 for children and youth 3-18; members and children under 3 receive free admission. For more information about membership or volunteer opportunities, please call 276-634-4141 or visit

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