The James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library holds the largest collection of artifacts and documents related to the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe. The museum is located in downtown Fredericksburg, VA.
The James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library first opened the museum in 1927. The descendants of James Monroe desired a location to display their collections to the public. The collections had been handed down from generation to generation. The museum was turned over to the Commonwealth of Virginia and is now run by the University of Mary Washington.
The James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library is on the National Register of Historic Places and belongs to the American Association of Museums, the American Association for State and Local History, and the Virginia Association of Museums.
The James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library is on the west side of Charles Street, between William and George Streets. There are two parts to it – an old, long 1-1/2 story brick building with a gabled roof that was built in 1758. The new section is also 1-1/2 story square brick building that was built after 1964 when the museum and library were organized. The Museum houses memorabilia and a small library. The library contains volumes similar to those that might have been in James Monroe’s own library. The museum is also home to a collection of furnishings and other artifacts belonging to the Monroe family.
A bust of James Monroe sculpted by Margaret French Cresson, the daughter of Daniel Chester French appears in the memorial guardian outside of The James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library.
The James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library building is made of three old buildings that were joined together. It is on a site that has been said to be the law office of future United States President James Monroe from 1786-1789. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates and in Congress before this time, but he resigned when he became President. In 1788, he was a delegate to the ratifying convention for the US Constitution. At first, John opposed adoption until they could add a Bill of Rights.
In 1928, the Monroe law office was bought by Laurence Hoes, who is a descendant of Monroe. Hoes established the Monroe Foundation to manage the property. Hoes acquired a variety of artifacts related to James Monroe and restored the property so it could serve as a museum. In 1964, an addition was built. The Monroe Foundation gave the property to the Commonwealth. The property is now managed by a board consisting of the regents of Mary Washington University and the members of the Monroe Foundation.
James Monroe entered the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782 after only two years after he began to read law under Thomas Jefferson. The next year Monroe joined the Continental Congress. He served until 1786. That year James Monroe moved to Fredericksburg from New York City to start his law practice. At this point, Monroe was disillusioned with politics and planned to leave politics behind.
Monroe practiced law in Fredericksburg for three years. His practice was relatively modest, but he soon returned to politics when he was elected to the Virginia Assembly. While still living in Fredericksburg, Monroe attended the Constitutional Convention. In 1790, Monroe was elected to the United States Senate. From then on Monroe almost consistently served in state or national office including becoming the 5th President of the United States.
In 1927, Rose de Chine Gouverneur Hoes, Monroe’s great-granddaughter, learned the government planned to demolish the buildings on Monroe’s Fredericksburg town lot. She bought the land and opened a museum with her extensive collection of Monroe objects as well as books and documents. Her son Laurence Hoes added to that collection and built an addition to the original museum in 1948. Over time many descendants gave more family objects and furniture.
President Monroe’s descendants thought the little brick building on the site was Monroe’s original law office. But new research determined that it is not his law office. It is 3 buildings put together and they are now a museum. The museum on the site of Monroe’s old law office has lots of objects and memorabilia related to him.
Everything in the museum belongs to the Monroe family. There are no copies, replicas or replacements. The archives contain over 10,000 documents and the library holds over 3,000 rare and historic books. The site includes a memorial garden adorned with plaques and memorials to James Monroe and his achievements.
If you’d like to learn more about Fredericksburg, click here to read about The Mary Washington House.