William & Mary’s influence extends far beyond Williamsburg. James Monroe’s Highland, previously known as Ash Lawn-Highland, was the official residence of fifth U.S. President, James Monroe, from 1799 to 1823 and has been owned by the university since 1974. While approximately 50,000 people visit the property each year for perspectives on U.S. history and contributions by one of William & Mary’s most notable alumni, campus activities do not always reach as far west as Charlottesville.
In order to make full use of the site, which is rich in both history and landscape, W&M IT worked with Highland staff to install a projector and an audio system. John Drummond, academic technology manager, along with David Shantz, technology support engineer, were the team behind this installation. The system is installed in the Highland’s Event Barn, that is, according to Drummond, “the largest structure on the property.” Scott Fenstermacher, network manager, is leading a team that hopes to upgrade Highland’s phone and computer networks at a future date.
“Highland is the only presidential home in the United States that is owned and operated by a public college,” explains Drummond. The property was donated to W&M by its last private owner, Jay Winston Johns.
Major research initiatives at the property have paid off with big results this year, when it was announced that the building that was long thought to be the main residence is in fact the Presidential Guest House Monroe had constructed in 1818. In order to make this discovery, a team of archaeologists led by Highland Executive Director, Sara Bon-Harper, used a method called dendrochronology (tree ring dating) that determined precise dates for many of the building’s construction phases. In the same research campaign, the archaeologists uncovered the foundations of a much larger house that was built in 1799, which was the Monroe family home.
“[Scholars] were saying [the standing structure] was the last remaining part of Monroe’s house that burned down; but in fact, it was a guest house that he built on the property,” says Drummond. “There were always questions about the property because the architecture seemed too advanced for Monroe’s time.” In fact, the guest house was built nearly two decades later, during his Presidency.
Ultimately, says Bon-Harper, “the goal is to highlight Highland’s contributions to the College’s core missions, including its global reach, with an understanding of James Monroe’s legacy, which includes foreign policy, and initiatives such as the Presidential Precinct, which contributes to a stronger future by building international leaders.”