September Program: Visiting Natural Bridge – Four Centuries of Visitors:
This is my site Written by mskovira on September 5, 2015 – 8:46 am

Sunday, Sep. 20, 3 PM

  Natural Bridge Historic Hotel, Washington Hall

     Presentation followed by Reception and Artifact Display  

The Rockbridge Historical Society’s next program will feature a double bill of eminent speakers on the afternoon of Sunday, September 20, chronicling the history of Visitor Experience at Natural Bridge. Entitled “Four Centuries of Visiting Natural Bridge: From Jefferson’s Family to Tourism Today,” the program will meet, fittingly, at the Historic Natural Bridge Hotel in its newly renovated Washington Hall.  A reception will follow the 3 PM slideshow presentation, with both free and open to the public.

Extending from the visual focus of our “Images of the Rock Bridge” exhibit (still running at Campbell House through 2015) our presenters will jointly canvas a variety of visitor accounts over the course of four centuries, beginning from Jefferson’s purchase of the Bridge in 1774, and highlighting a memorable 1817 letter by Jefferson’s granddaughter Cornelia as they traveled to those properties from Poplar Forest.

Over the years, the site would be successively transformed into a 19th century resort, and a nationally publicized mid-20th century attraction featuring such novel amenities as a swimming pool and air conditioned cafeteria.  Most recently, the Virginia Conservation Legacy Foundation has invested anew on these foundations, to renovate the historic structures, create museum displays, and expand recreational activities before transitioning the Bridge and its surrounding acreage to a state park.  For visitors past, present, and prospective, Natural Bridge has brought marvelous, meaningful, and memorable experiences.

Our first speaker, Dr. J. Jefferson Looney, is Editor of the Thomas Jefferson Papers: Retirement Series at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.  Having worked on the project at Monticello for over 15 years (with the full series of papers now 70 years in the making), Looney is recognized as a leading archival expert on Jefferson’s writings.  Most recently, he has been instrumental in digitally indexing thousands of letters in the ongoing effort to make Jefferson’s voluminous, wide-ranging personal correspondence more available to scholars and digital audiences around the world.  For this program, Looney’s attentions to Jefferson’s family and post-presidential years will provide a unique and intimate angle on Jefferson’s 50 years’ ownership and visits to Natural Bridge, which he described as the “most sublime of nature’s works,” and which would give Rockbridge County its name.

Among her wide range of expertise, Dr. Jurretta Heckscher, Reference Specialist for Early American History at the Library of Congress, is known to many in our community as an advocate for preservation of the Bridge, while also writing a monograph on its narrative and visual histories. As a collector of Bridge memorabilia herself, Heckscher was also a vital support in the development of RHS’ exhibit, including a loan of a rare 19thcentury print of colorfully dressed women visiting the Bridge, an image you can still see in the entry to Campbell House. Dr. Heckscher will also bring some distinctive items from her collection for guests to view – from unique artifacts and prints to playful souvenir tchotchkes – as an index of the Bridge’s international status as natural icon, and tourist attraction.

Washington Hall is located to the rear of the main Hotel.  Accessible parking is located around back, with restrooms in the main hotel accessible by a breezeway.  Please contact 540.464.1058 or rochist@hotmail.com for more information.

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