The Liberia Graffiti Trail
Posted By Crystal Douglas
The Liberia House sits on what was once one of the largest and most successful plantations in Virginia. The home was built in Manassas, Virginia in 1825 by William James Weir and his wife Harriett Bladen Mitchell Weir. During the Civil War, the home became the headquarters of General P. G. T. Beauregard. As the Civil War concluded, it was one of the few notable structures to remain standing. Today, the Liberia House is a part of the Manassas Museum System. The home and grounds are open for special events and guided tours.
In 2014, Civil War graffiti found in the Liberia House was nominated as one of “Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts.” The Virginia Association of Museums’ program promotes awareness of collections care and the efforts of institutions across the Commonwealth of Virginia and District of Columbia to care for their cultural and historical treasures. Selected by public voting, the graffiti was chosen for and featured on the list for Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts.
We spoke with Lisa Sievel-Otten, the Marketing Coordinator for the Manassas Museum System to get an update on the Liberia House and the discovered war graffiti. Since being featured as a Top Honoree, the Liberia House received positive publicity which has greatly impacted the local perception of the museum. The graffiti has been featured in several local press stories, including the Manassas Observer, the Washington Post Prince William edition, Potomac Local, and has had on-site TV coverage from NBC 4 Washington. The Liberia House was also featured in a local City Connection newsletter and the Manassas Museum newsletter and annual report.
The historical site experienced an increase in museum and guided tour attendance with the graffiti as one of the tour highlights. Five descendants of Union soldiers from around the country have come to see the signatures of great-grandfathers who fought in the Civil War. These ancestral visits have also generated publicity both in Manassas and in the visitors’ hometowns.
Nationally known conservator, Christopher Mills, discovered the graffiti in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Mills went to work uncovering all the stray pencil marks he could find. As he uncovered layers of paint, he exposed drawings, signatures, and even grocery lists on the walls. He then protected several “windows” of graffiti and added interpretive signage which explains the graffiti discovery process and highlights some of the Union soldiers who wrote their names on the walls. In addition to preserving the graffiti, Mills repaired plaster and preserved other walls in the house as well. Structural work helped sustain staircases, chimneys, and the basement, and has made it possible for visitors to tour the home and access the graffiti.
The Liberia House has been making strides toward preserving the house and grounds. The site was added to the Manassas Museum System’s Capital Improvement Plan which has enabled them to develop the property as a public park that is accessible to more visitors. Liberia House has received significant donations from donors and foundations like the Breeden Family Foundation, the G.F.W.C Woman’s Club, and other individual donors.
Standing as one of the few remaining antebellum structures in Virginia, the Liberia House contains an enormous amount of history. The site is now closed due to restoration of the home and grounds. However, it has been included in the Northern Virginia Graffiti Trail. Liberia House expects an increase in promotion and awareness from the alliance, and joint tours with the Northern Virginia Graffiti Trail will be hosted when it reopens.