by Jennifer Dickey
For twenty-five years Travis McDonald, Director of Architectural Restoration at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest has operated the Poplar Forest Architectural Restoration Field School at Poplar Forest near Lynchburg, Virginia. I was one of the lucky attendees in the summer of 2014. It was refreshing and invigorating for me, a college professor, to sit on the other side of the desk for a couple of weeks and become a student once again—not that we did very much sitting.
Our field school class had a wide range of participants, from graduate students who were just embarking on their careers to practitioners who are engaged in hands-on preservation work and even a lawyer who simply had an abiding interest in history and historic preservation. The Poplar Forest program is designed to give everyone, no matter their level of expertise or experience, a peek behind the scenes at the preservation programs at Poplar Forest, Monticello, Montpelier, and the University of Virginia, as well as an opportunity to participate in the assessment of a historic resource in the Lynchburg area. The experience was exhilarating. The work that Travis and his crew have done at Poplar Forest is an inspiration to anyone with an interest in historic preservation. Getting an inside perspective on their fine work certainly heightened my appreciation and understanding for how things should be done. I returned to my classroom at Kennesaw State University, where I coordinate an undergraduate public history program and serve as the campus preservationist, with renewed enthusiasm for my work and for spreading the gospel of historic preservation.