(Oct. 17) When the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation meets later this week, high on its list of concerns certainly will be the parlous financial state of James Madison’s Montpelier, which the Trust owns.

Trust President Paul Edmondson, who answers to the board, spent several years pressuring the Montpelier Foundation, a quasi-independent organization that manages the founding father’s estate for the Trust, to accept what amounted to a hostile takeover by a self-proclaimed committee of “descendants” of slavery. Despite its name, the Montpelier Descendants Committee includes plenty of people with no direct connection to Montpelier, all the while excluding at least 26 actual descendants of Madison’s manservant Paul Jennings.

As also reported by the Heritage Foundation, the new management is refocusing the organization by downplaying Madison himself and his Constitution while making slavery the central theme — as part of a larger effort to use Montpelier as a national “platform” for a slave-centric focus on U.S. history.

I have written about this situation a number of times in the past five months. The turmoil, however, has continued on multiple fronts, as have the financial challenges, including reports that the local Lowe’s cut off Montpelier’s credit cline for maintenance of the estate due to money running short — and that visitors have suffered injuries. In June, the then-chief financial officer circulated a memo showing Montpelier was $576,000 below anticipated income for the year. The organization faces large bond payments, along with $1.66 million in “unfunded liabilities” apparently stemming from using restricted donations for operating expenses instead.

Due to budget constraints, the number of tour guides has been reduced by about half over five years. There also are questions about a grant from the state of Virginia originally intended for a slave cemetery memorialization project at Montpelier. The foundation reportedly plans to use part of it for the salary of someone to oversee a massive project to create an 850-square mile “heritage area” far beyond Montpelier’s own property…. [The full column is at this link.]


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