The history of Natural Bridge and an opportunity to learn about the transition of the “one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World” into a state park are related topics that will be discussed at the 2015 Annual Meeting and Dinner of the Mountain Valley Preservation Alliance (MVPA) at the Natural Bridge Park and Historic Hotel. This event will occur on Friday, April 17, 2015, at 6:00 pm.
Jurretta Heckscher, Ph.D., Library of Congress historian, researcher and reference specialist, will be the featured speaker for the meeting. Dr. Heckscher’s presentation is entitled “That Great American Natural Wonder”: A History of Natural Bridge. Her discussion will include, but not be limited to, Jefferson’s vision, early American visitors to the Bridge, the role of Patrick Henry, and the significance of Natural Bridge to the development of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States.
Dr. Heckscher comes to the MVPA annual event with a passionate interest in the history of Natural Bridge and an impressive background. She received her A.B. summa cum laude, in English and Comparative Literature in 1979 at Harvard University, followed by a Masters in Literature in 1982-83 from the University of Oxford, Oxford, England. In 2000, she obtained her Ph.D. in American Studies from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. From 1979 to the present, Heckscher has received a number of honors, awards, grants, and fellowships including, but not limited to: The Marshall Scholarship to the University of Oxford, (1979-1982); Certificate of Appreciation for Extraordinary Achievement and Service, National Endowment for the Arts (1982); Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellowship, Virginia Historical Society (1997); and, Special Achievement Awards, Library of Congress, 2010 & 2014. A few of her print and online publications are “A Cultural History of Natural Bridge”, (2008), online resource guides such as The American Founders Online, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and most recently, Historical, Art-historical, and Bibliographic Texts for the Friends of the Natural Bridge website (2013-present).
The interest in Natural Bridge’s history began in 2007 when she first visited the American treasure. In a recent document about her personal background, Dr. Heckscher writes, “… I fell in love, instantly and completely. The sheer beauty and power of the place—all that Jeffersonian aesthetic allure I’d read about a score of times and never quite believed—caught me at first sight, and has never let go. The historian in me kicked in at once. What was the history of the Natural Bridge, I started to wonder, beyond its well-known connection with Thomas Jefferson? Amazingly, I discovered that almost no one had done any serious scholarly work on the Bridge’s history. I decided that I would. And before I knew it, I had become as enthralled by the history as by the Bridge itself, finding to my delight that the things I’ve always loved most—the natural world, history, and the arts—came together to shape the story of the Bridge and make it profoundly important to the people of Virginia and the United States.”
Anne Beckett, a Roanoke Architectural Historian, will also provide a brief overview and findings of her architectural survey and planning work at the Natural Bridge property. This project was made possible through the award to Rockbridge County of a cost share grant from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. MVPA is proud of membership support for its role in helping to make this first cultural resource survey of the Natural Bridge property a reality! The cost share portion was funded by the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund and the Bank of Botetourt.
Ms. Beckett has practiced architectural history for 25 years, and her work includes research, documentation, and evaluation of historic resources throughout the Commonwealth. After graduating from the former Mary Washington College in 1990, she worked as a draftsman with the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research before becoming their Senior Architectural Historian. Ms. Beckett later worked for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources as the architectural historian for the former Roanoke Regional Preservation Office. In honor of its 50th birthday in 1999, she nominated the Roanoke Star to the National Register of Historic Places. Since 2001, she has worked as an independent contractor in Roanoke. She is currently preparing the Natural Bridge Survey Report for the Commonwealth of Virginia which encompasses the history and land development use of the Natural Bridge Resort. In a statement prepared for this news article, Ms. Beckett noted, “The interest in the Natural Bridge and the will to preserve it has gone full-circle; beginning with Thomas Jefferson’s 157-acre land patent in 1774 and culminating (today) with the Commonwealth of Virginia. Jefferson may well be called the Father of Conservation because of his devotion to protecting the Natural Bridge (originally called the Rock Bridge). The virgin land around it did not significantly develop until after his death in 1826 and the coming of the railroad in the 1850s. Now its current owner, the Virginia Conservancy Legacy Fund will donate significant portions of the 1600-acre property to the Commonwealth for its newest state park, the Natural Bridge State Park, just what Jefferson would have wanted.”
The evening event will include a short MVPA business meeting, a social with wine bar and other beverages, followed by a full course buffet dinner, and presentations by both speakers. The cost per MVPA member is $ 45.00 and $ 50.00 for a non-member. Reservations can be made by sending a check to: MVPA 2015 Annual meeting, P.O. Box 525, Lexington, Virginia 24450. For more information and/or to become an MVPA member, contact an MVPA President Peggy Crosson (540-354-9698) or Executive Director Kurt C. Russ (540-958-8534) at MVPA2014@gmail.com.
MVPA, Inc. is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 tax exempt organization with a mission to support– through education, study, and advocacy — the preservation of historic structures, landscapes, communities, and archaeological sites as well as related photographs, manuscript, ephemera and material culture items or collections in the West-Central Valley region of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Yearly grants will be awarded to worthy projects within the counties of Botetourt, Rockbridge, Augusta, Bath and Alleghany, in furtherance of these goals. Proceeds from fundraising events such as the Annual Membership Meeting & Dinner help to underwrite a preservation grant that MVPA awards each year.
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