The long-awaited expansion of Point of Honor is taking new strides, securing $28,000 in grant money in the past month alone.
Since 2013, there have been talks of a new education center for the historic Lynchburg home, and though fundraising kicked off in 2017, changes in leadership stalled significant forward momentum in the capital campaign.
But this December, Point of Honor received a $25,000 grant for the education center from the Al Stroobants Foundation, taking the museum system a step closer to its $1 million goal. It also received $2,500 in grant funds from the Sam and Marion Golden Helping Hand Foundation and $500 from the Walmart Foundation. They have currently raised about $375,000 from over 200 individuals, businesses and foundations.
The Federal-style mansion at 112 Cabell St. was built in 1815 by the Cabell family. Current plans for the education center include a 1,700-square-foot addition to the Carriage House, with multipurpose space, restrooms, amenities and accessibility for people with disabilities.
Through the expanded and more accessible space, the museum hopes to develop new collaborations and partnerships with schools, community groups, the neighborhood and the city at large.
Though plans for the physical space have not changed during the life of the project, Director of the Lynchburg Museum System Ted Delaney said the overall reimagining of Point of Honor has shifted to include a holistic look at all the property and the changing neighborhood around it. Delaney hopes the education center will help bring the museum further into the 21st century.
“We realized that Point of Honor has reached a plateau in its growth and evolution, and we really need a multilayered approach to re-imagine it for the next 100 years,” Delaney said.
For decades, the museum system has told the story of the Cabell family, exploring the period that the house was built and the carefully restored interior. Now Delaney said they are ready to expand more than the physical space — using the property to tell more stories than those of the Cabell family.
“Nowadays, in the 21st century, people want different stories told. People are really interested in a broader view of the population that lived on the plantation there,” Delaney said. “It’s a big, big property, it’s a big community, and the house is just one tiny segment of that.”
Delaney said he sees Point of Honor as one of the leading public destinations in the city. Expansion of space, and the stories it tells, is integral to keeping the museum system alive.
“You can tell a richer, fuller story of the property that’s beyond the four walls of the house,” Delaney said. He imagines the space will be used as a multipurpose site for meetings, programs, lectures and workshops.
Charlotte Fischer, chairman of the Lynchburg Museum Foundation board of directors and the Lynchburg Museum System advisory board, has been involved in the project since 2014. She reiterated the importance of maintaining a connection with the community surrounding the historic home.
“Many house museums all over the country have closed because they were not relevant, and we’re trying to make sure that what we do continues to be relevant to the community,” Fischer said. “It isn’t just a pretty house, it’s a way to reach the history of the area, and make full use of it in a way many places haven’t done, and subsequently closed.”
She stressed the importance of having a building that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act on site, and providing a larger gathering space for the school children that visit Point of Honor.
Last year, about 11,000 residents, students and tourists visited Point of Honor, and most of the city’s first through fourth grade public school students participate in education programming on the site. Currently, Fischer said, use is hampered by its small size, lack of restrooms and amenities.
Like Delaney, she emphasized the importance of telling new stories.
“We want to reach new populations. Through the years, so many historic houses and buildings have been portrayed as grand and glorious place without telling the story of the people who really lived there, and who enabled them to live there,” Fischer said.
In recent months, the Lynchburg Museum System has shifted programming to seek overlooked stories, like those at the heart of the historic Daniel’s Hill neighborhood where Point of Honor resides and, for the first time, offering a house tour told from the perspective of an enslaved person.
Among the changes made to help secure grant money for new programming and the education center was the hiring of part-time grant writer Laura Macaluso, a public history specialist who was hired in the summer of 2019.
These efforts to create diverse experiences at the museum, branching out from traditional modes of storytelling, are rooted in a desire to set Point of Honor apart from the concentration of historic houses along the eastern seaboard. With so many distractions in a digital age, Macaluso said, the competition is fierce.
“Here we are, an old house in an old town, maybe telling some old stories, and we have to figure out how to open our doors to a broader swath of people,” Macaluso said.
She hopes the education center will help bring a new element to what is already a “great resource.” Overlooking the James River, connected to downtown and the Blackwater Creek Trail, nestled in the historic Daniel’s Hill neighborhood, Point of Honor is central to the Lynchburg community, Macaluso said.
“We need room to expand our stories, and therefore we need an expanded space to do it,” Macaluso said. “Honestly, I do have great hopes that we can pull of this project which is both a brick and mortar building, but is so much more meaningful than that.”
From lectures with scholars, hands on history programs and gaming and digital technology, she hopes the new education center space could be used to connect people to a historic landscape filled with hundreds of years of history.
Delaney said they are waiting to hear back on about a half dozen more grants in the next month. If the fundraising campaign wraps in the next year, he hopes to break ground by the end of 2020.
Sarah Honosky covers Appomattox and Campbell counties at The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5556.