The Sons of Confederate Veterans are losing their lease at the Confederate Memorial Chapel.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Virginia’s Department of General Services declined to extend the lease beyond May 31, opting instead to negotiate a use agreement with Lee-Jackson Camp No. 1, Sons of Confederate Veterans, according to an April 28 letter to the group signed by Richard F. Sliwoski, DGS director, and Alex Nyerges, VMFA director.
“We are perplexed and disappointed,” said Robert H. Lamb, judge advocate of the SCV camp, which is a successor to the Confederate veterans group organized in 1883 to create a home for old soldiers. In 1885, the group bought 36 acres and the Robinson House for the Robert E. Lee Camp No. 1 Confederate Soldiers’ Home. The Confederate Memorial Chapel was built on the property in 1887.
“If we’d been a poor steward, we certainly could understand it, but we’ve been a good steward,” said Lamb, citing $100,000 that the SCV raised for the chapel during the most recent five-year lease.
Beyond that, the very nature of the building argues for involvement by Confederate groups, according to Lamb.
“It’s a memorial, not just an artifact sitting there like some of the other things at the museum,” he said. “It’s a Confederate War memorial. That’s why it’s particularly fitting that our camp be the lessee.”
The SCV camp lost its exclusive claim to the property in 1892 when it agreed to deed it to the state in exchange for operating funds of up to $30,000 a year.
When the last Confederate veteran died in 1941, the state received the title. During the 1980s, the United Daughters of the Confederacy leased the chapel. In 1993, it was leased again to the Lee-Jackson Camp, SCV.
The chapel has been enveloped in controversy over the display of Confederate flags since 2010, when the state wrote into the lease a ban on flying the Confederate flag outside the chapel.
A group known as the Virginia Flaggers has protested by parading the Confederate flag outside the museum on many weekends and special days.
Museum officials reiterated Thursday that the Confederate flag was not historically flown on the chapel’s columns. The SCV began the custom to indicate when the museum was open.
Under the new system of operation, the chapel will be open to the public daily during VMFA’s hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., instead of the current hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, officials said.
The VMFA will take on the responsibility of maintaining the property inside and out. Under the previous lease, the SCV had been responsible for interior maintenance.
The museum also will develop uniform and professional interpretation of its grounds and historic properties, including the chapel and the Robinson House, which are the only two surviving buildings from the property’s original service to Confederate veterans. The Robinson House will reopen next year as a regional visitor center and historic site with exhibits about the property’s earlier history.