Public votes can help preserve history at Red Hill

Area residents have the opportunity to help preserve a historic cookbook in the collection at Patrick Henry’s Red Hill. 

The artifact is among Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts selected by the Virginia Association of Museums for public voting with the winner receiving funding to help with preservation. 

Red Hill Director of Historic Preservation and Collections Cody Youngblood said that every year VAM invites museums and libraries from all over the state to submit their artifacts for consideration. 

“A committee of curators, archivists, and museum professionals then selects 10 artifacts from the submissions,” Youngblood said. 

The public has an opportunity to help fund the conservation and preservation of this cookbook in an online voting competition that runs through March 3. Voting will ensure the funding needed to preserve this book, officials at Red Hill explained in a statement. 

“The shortlisted artifacts are then put up for public voting, allowing people to choose which artifact they want to support,” Youngblood said. “This year Red Hill has submitted Elvira Henry’s cookbook, which is one of the most significant books in our collection. It is also the only surviving cookbook from the Henry family.”

The artifact that receives the most votes in the online voting competition will receive the People’s Choice Award of $1,000 for the conservation and preservation of the item.

Youngblood said everyone can vote once every 24 hours. 

“We hope everyone will support Red Hill and vote every day until March 3rd,” he said.

Details about the Red Hill cookbook

Red Hill’s leather-bound cookbook contains the personal recipes of Elvira McClelland Henry (1808–1875), according to its listing at the VAM voting web page. It goes on to explain that Elvira was the daughter-in-law of Patrick Henry. She lived with her husband, John, Patrick Henry’s youngest son, at Red Hill after their marriage in 1826 until her death. Elvira compiled and used the cookbook during these years at Red Hill. More than 235 recipes, handwritten by Elvira, appear in this book, ranging from desserts to bread to puddings and pickles.

During her time at Red Hill, Elvira oversaw the construction of a greenhouse near her home, and she passed down her knowledge of gardening and cooking to her children. Elvira’s daughter, Elvira McClelland Jr., later inherited this book and added her recipes.

“Handwritten cookbooks by women are rare and valuable artifacts that highlight the critical role that women played in the preparation of meals for their families in the 19th century,” the detail on the VAM page explains. “After nearly 175 years, and with constant use in a hot kitchen, this book has suffered the effects of time and love. Preserving and protecting this irreplaceable piece of Red Hill’s history is vital. Conservators at the Northeast Document Conservation Center will execute preservation work if voting is successful.”

According to their experts, Youngblood said each page will be cleaned, rips and tears will be mended using archival paper and glue, new hinges and reinforced bindings will reattach the pages to the cover, and the leather covers will be cleaned.

Youngblood encouraged local residents and those elsewhere to cast votes for the historic cookbook.

OTHER ITEMS SELECTED FOR PRESERVATION 

Other items selected for the preservation competition include a flag fragment at Stratford Hall that is said to have belonged to Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, believed to have been created after the Revolutionary War. Also, Lt. Gary Lee Miller’s Medal of Honor awarded during the Civil War housed in the collection at the Historical Society of Western Virginia, Hampton University Museum’s Christ in the Manger by Francis Musangogwantamu and the wedding gown of entrepreneur and World War II widow Blanche Russell Sabetty that is housed at the Fredericksburg Area Museum.

Other items include an 1880s African American photo album held by the Danville Historical Society, a marching band hat at the Christiansburg Institute, Botetourt County Historical Society’s Hayth Hotel guest register, and the Seth Woodroof Account Book at Jones Memorial Library.

Youngblood said the $1,000 prize won’t cover the full cost of the preservation project, but will help with the cost estimated at $6,115 by conservators.

“The book’s poor condition requires significant work to stabilize and protect it for future generations,” he said. “However, every penny counts, and every vote will get us one step closer to preserving this book.”

Youngblood said Red Hill is always accepting donations for artifact conservation, historic preservation, artifact acquisition, and more. Anyone can donate directly to Red Hill online at www.redhill.org/support or by calling 434-376-2044. All donations are tax-deductible.

A VAM news release said that $250 will be awarded to each of the organizations that were selected for the preservation competition that do not win the voting.

“Museum collections are always held in trust for future generations, but they are always threatened at the same time,” said VAM Executive Director Rick Hurley. “Our Top Ten program gives museums a chance to draw attention to particularly endangered artifacts, and raise public awareness of the need for preservation.”

More information about Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program can be found at vamuseums.org/virginia-top-10-endangered-artifacts. Information and further history on Elvira Henry’s cookbook can be found at redhill.org/elvira-cookbook.

Over the years, this program has benefited over 200 institutions by highlighting the importance of Virginia museums and the expense and expertise necessary to care for the unique historic and cultural items in their care.