Historic house museums such as the Thoroughgood House exist primarily to preserve the homes and to educate the public. Interpreting the site with tours and relevant programs is a significant part of the education process.
When additional information about the property emerges through documents, archeology or other scientific disciplines, adapting the existing interpretation may be – and often is – necessary to provide an accurate understanding of the site.
“Our purpose is really to educate people. Why does this place matter? Why is it important? ” said Annmarie Reiley-Kay, history museums director in Virginia Beach. “Interpretation is a huge part. That goes hand in hand with the education. ”
Friends of the Adam Thoroughgood House Foundation, headed by Henry Clay Hofheimer II, was formed to purchase and restore the house at 1636 Parish Road in the Thoroughgood subdivision of Virginia Beach.
Under the direction of Finlay A. Ferguson Jr., the restoration project was completed in 1957. The property was later owned by Norfolk and administered by the Chrysler Museum. The Thoroughgood House opened for tours on April 29, 1957.
Local archaeologist Floyd Painter, who had done excavations at the site, said the location once had been the site of a large Chesepian Indian village – long before English settlers arrived.
At the time of the dwelling’s conservation and restoration, researchers believed the brick home was that of Capt. Adam Thoroughgood, who came to Virginia as an indentured servant and was awarded a 5,350-acre land grant in 1635. They believed – or wanted to believe – that the house was built in 1636.
It was once characterized as the oldest brick dwelling in America. While the land where the Thoroughgood house is located was, indeed, part of Captain Thoroughgood’s original tract, this historic brick house did not exist during Thoroughgood’s lifetime. It was built eight decades later by one of his descendants, great-grandson Argall Thorowgood II circa 1719.
“When we do tours today, we talk about that. We engage people. We recognize that at one point there was a switchover, ”said Reiley-Kay. “The reason for that is the archaeological findings.”
During archaeological testing before the education center was built on the Thoroughgood site in 2018, archaeologists with the James River Institute found no evidence of European artifacts or remains earlier than the 1700′s on the property.
“We use science. Documents help us. Archeology helps us. Dendrochronology helps us, ”said Reiley-Kay. Dendrochronology is the scientific method of dating tree ring growth to the exact year the rings were formed to accurately date the age of the lumber used in the construction of a building.
The education center at the Thoroughgood site is particularly welcoming. Visitors can enter to see the video, peruse the exhibits, and use the restroom facilities. A guide escorts visitors along the path to the house and presents a 45-minute interpretive tour.
“It’s a nice setup,” said Reiley-Kay. “You can get the background story first, learn more on the tour, and then ask questions.”
When ancient documents – or other evidence – emerges, the site’s historical interpretation reflects that additional insight.
“An interpretive plan is not a final thing. It’s ever-evolving. A plan needs to be flexible enough to allow incorporating additional material, ”said Reiley-Kay. “It’s natural. We evolve in general. An interpretive plan isn’t just how we do a tour. ”
According to Reiley-Kay, developing and implementing an interpretive plan is a multi-layered endeavor that requires input from professional consultants and the museum staff as well as the general public.
Marketing the historic site, “wayfinding” signage, exhibits, website design, specialty tours, and related programs are all elements incorporated in a comprehensive interpretive plan.
Reiley-Kay and her associates are currently engaged in producing an interpretive plan that will help guide Thoroughgood House, and other Virginia Beach historic sites, through the years to come. The developing plan is nearing finalization.
“We’ve been working with stakeholders on this for the last year, since March of last year,” said Reiley-Kay. “We want to tell that story. We want to find better ways to tell those stories. As we are growing, more information is being discovered too, ”she said. “We do find new evidence all the time.”
The Thoroughgood House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. In 2004, a Save America’s Treasures grant awarded the City of Virginia Beach $ 150,000 for preservation of the house. The city supplemented the grant money and contracted to update the electrical system, replace the doors, and seal the bricks to keep out moisture.
Following the renovation and preservation project, the Thoroughgood House reopened for tours with a revised interpretation of the house built by Argall Thorowgood II and later modified by his son Colonel John Thorowgood Jr. The emphasis of the revised interpretation is focused upon the house as it existed in the 1700s.
“We do think Adam Thorowgood is of great importance based on all of the different families that came from him and who he brought over,” Reiley-Kay said. “We do talk about Adam, but we don’t claim it’s Adam’s house now.”
What: Thoroughgood House celebrates the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day with a tree planting, talks by master gardeners, a scavenger hunt, crafts and house tours.
When: Noon to 7 pm April 29
Where: 1636 Parish Road, Virginia Beach
For more information, email email@example.com or call 757-385-5100