The Columns

Recently Renovated Lee Chapel Museum Features Two New Exhibits

— by on December 4th, 2007

W&L’s Lee Chapel Museum, which reopened on October 1 after two years of planning and many months of construction, offers two new exhibits currently on display.

The first new exhibit, Robert E. Lee: 11th President of Washington College, includes a new self-guided tour of Lee’s office which he occupied from 1868-1870. Lighted text panels throughout the exhibit provide information about Lee’s presidency and highlight many of the objects around the office including a 1870 map of Augusta County. This map was produced by the board of survey of Washington College under the direction of Jedediah Hotchkiss, Lee’s mapmaker. The United Daughters of the Confederacy donated a generous gift to the museum to help with the map’s conservation.

The exhibition also includes a letter written by Robert E. Lee to good friend and business associate, Samuel Tagart. Dated Sept. 28, 1870, it is thought to be the last letter Lee wrote from his office.

The two-page letter to his dear friend was in response to a letter he had received from Tagart that morning. It was mailed to Tagart’s Baltimore home, where it remained until his death in 1892, when the letter was donated to the McDonogh School in Owings Mill, Md. Tagart had served as president of McDonogh’s board of trustees when the school was founded in 1873.

The historical letter remained in a vault for 110 years until it was discovered by Jim Dawson ’68, who served as McDonogh’s assistant headmaster from 1988-1990. Dawson was instrumental in arranging for it to be returned to Lexington as part of the new exhibition.

The letter will be on display until mid-January. W&L has been given permission from the McDonogh School to make a copy of the letter for its own archives.

The second new exhibit, Not Unmindful of the Future: Educating to Build and Rebuild a Nation, is on display in the main gallery of the museum. This exhibit follows the history of American education through the original colonies through reconstruction and emphasizes the contributions made to education by Robert E. Lee and George Washington.

The focal point of this display is a 19th century planetarium made by Thomas H. Barlow of Kentucky and purchased by Washington College during Lee’s presidency in 1867. Also included in the exhibit are paintings and artifacts from the museum’s Washington-Custis-Lee collection, including Washington’s watch and knee buckles and Lee’s shaving instruments and velvet slippers.

Future exhibition projects will continue into the spring, when the museum’s new changing exhibition space will open.