About The Foundation › Our Programs & Operations
The McGhee Foundation, guided by Ambassador McGhee's vision, has refined and narrowed its strategic objectives into three main areas of operations: Historical, Horticultural, and Agricultural. All present and future Foundation programming will revolve around these three important categories.
Objective: Restoration and Preservation of the Historic Property, Papers, Artifacts, and Antiquities
The mission of The McGhee Foundation is the preservation of Farmer’s Delight Plantation, including its buildings and grounds, and the collections of Ambassador George C. McGhee. To this end the restoration of the historic Manor House is presently the Foundation’s primary focus. Until the death of Ambassador McGhee in 2005, the Manor House served as a private residence; it was home to generations of Colonel Lane’s descendents, followed by the Frosts, a popular family of equestrians, and most recently, to the public service-minded McGhee family. Wings were added and expanded over the years to accommodate the multiple generations living within their walls. Unlike many other historic properties, however, the Manor House at Farmer’s Delight Plantation proudly displays each distinctive addition while still retaining much of its original appearance and character – standing as witness and testament to the history of the state and the nation.
While an informal survey by the Foundation’s Historic Architect and the Virginia Department of Historical Resources determined that the house is in reasonable condition for its age, structural elements in the foundation and flooring require stabilization. The electrical and plumbing infrastructure and the HVAC system are in a deteriorated and potentially dangerous state, as much of the piping and wiring date to their original installations in the 1920s and 1950s. Additionally, all seven of the various barns and workshops on the Plantation require complete restoration before they can be utilized to support the Foundation’s agricultural operations.
In recent years the Foundation has focused limited available resources on essential maintenance in an ongoing effort to prevent further deterioration. However, The McGhee Foundation now seeks additional funding to undertake the efforts necessary to fully restore Farmer’s Delight Plantation to its original glory. A full historic architecture survey of the Manor House, currently underway, is the key to the Foundation’s comprehensive historic preservation program. Its completion will provide the blueprint for future restoration and rehabilitation projects.
The Foundation also holds significant collections of books, papers, antiquities, and artifacts which the McGhees gathered throughout their lives. These collections – from tribal masks to correspondence to ancient glassware – reflect the McGhees’ passion for life and learning.
The McGhees traveled to nearly every corner of the world, and seemed to bring home a piece from every destination. To display their treasured artifacts, they converted two of the estate’s barns into makeshift museums. The former stables now feature African masks, statues, postcards, artwork, and textiles, while the large feed barn houses Central and South American masks, pottery, and textiles on its first floor. The Manor House and the Library also featured small displays of rare artifacts: glassware and coins from ancient Greece, Rome, and Turkey; Wedgwood and other pottery; and antique sculptures.
The personal papers of Ambassador McGhee document his life and career as a public servant and statesman during the emergence of the United States as a world superpower after World War II. These papers include decades of correspondence, writings and manuscripts, business papers, family scrapbooks and photo albums, photographs of notable acquaintances of the McGhees’, and a large slide collection containing over 46,000 slides from the family’s world travels over five decades. Mrs. McGhee’s collection of scrapbooks, travel diaries, recipe books, and organizational records offers a unique glimpse into the role of a diplomat’s wife in the 20th century.
A small-scale maintenance effort has been underway for several years to secure and catalog the various collections, yet full conservation efforts are now required to ensure the long-term preservation of these materials. This process includes the systematic transfer of all papers and artifacts from their current locations to the Archive & Research Facility, where they will undergo basic preservation treatment, then are re-housed and cataloged. Once the collections have been stabilized, they can be opened to the general public for display and research.
Objective: Restoration and Preservation of Arboretum and Gardens
After the Manor House, the Arboretum and gardens are perhaps the most striking features of Farmer’s Delight Plantation. When they purchased the property, the McGhees undertook major renovations to the landscape, including the addition of an arboretum and a three-tiered back garden section extending out from the Manor House. McGhee himself designed the arboretum layout – a series of twelve circles of trees. The layout is quite unique and advantageous: by standing in the middle of each circle, one can view a large number of trees at the same time and appreciate the differences between them. It was part of the McGhees’ morning routine to walk in the arboretum and tend to its multitude of trees. Four continents, seventeen countries, and over 120 species are represented by more than 150 trees; of those native to the United States, almost all are from states other than Virginia. As funds permit, The McGhee Foundation will have an arborist identify all the remaining trees, assess their condition, provide any necessary care to ensure their survival, and if possible, replace any specimens that have died or disappeared.
Formal terraced gardens also grace the back of the Manor House. Washington landscape architect Boris Timchenko designed a series of three brick-lined terraces leading successively down toward the small pond below the house. The top terrace includes a fountain and a brick fireplace, while the second terrace once featured a knot garden in geometric patterns. A highlight of the back terraces is the arbor located on the south edge. The marble columns lining one side of the arbor, originally from a 13th-century French abbey, were purchased by Ambassador McGhee from the estate of William Randolph Hearst, who had intended the columns to form part of his castle in San Simeon, California. Ambassador and Mrs. McGhee hosted many parties on these terraces whose guests included statesmen, dignitaries, and other heads of state.
Farmer’s Delight also features a boxwood maze consisting of 300 boxwood plants and a small stone chapel and the Lane family graveyard. Other landscape elements include a large English-inspired Park, a Zen rock garden, and a small formal garden.
The McGhee Foundation hopes to obtain long-range funding for the perpetual care and maintenance of the Arboretum and gardens to restore them to their former glory.
Objective: Re-establishment and Maintenance of a Sustainable Agricultural Program
Farmer’s Delight Plantation, since its inception in 1791, has always been a working farm. An inventory of Colonel Joseph Lane’s estate at his death in 1803 lists ten horses, fourteen cattle, farm implements such as plows, scythes, and a wagon, as well as fourteen slaves who helped the family tend the farm. Every head of household, from Peter Gregg to Henry Frost, listed himself as a farmer. Even Ambassador McGhee continued the agricultural operations at Farmer’s Delight until his retirement in the 1960s.
The McGhee Foundation intends to revive the longstanding tradition of agriculture at Farmer’s Delight by utilizing the rich pasture land and fields that make up the bulk of the property. After successfully cultivating a large vegetable garden in the summer of 2008 and improving the farm irrigation system, the Foundation is moving forward to establish sustainable farming and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Such a program will not only serve a role in the historic interpretation of the plantation, but will also promote and strengthen The McGhee Foundation’s relationship with the surrounding community. The Foundation has consulted with experts and farmers in the field of sustainable and organic farming in Virginia to provide guidelines and assistance for its program.
In 2009 the Foundation cultivated several acres for vegetable produce for a small CSA program, with excess food donated to a local food bank. The long-range goal is to cultivate the amount of land which will adequately support the local community demand, and perhaps add rare breeds of livestock. At present all farm operations are executed by a Farm Manager, farm hand, and a contract farmer.
To this end The McGhee Foundation is seeking aid to assist in the implementation of this new agricultural program. Capital is needed to purchase equipment, fencing, and supplies essential to expanding the current level of production, to hire additional staff, and to make the necessary changes to existing infrastructure.