Lee Chapel to close for renovations, installations

The tourist hotspot will close for four months while it undergoes renovations and installation of a new fire suppression system

Sarah Bartlett

Lee Chapel will close for nearly four months this winter as the iconic campus building undergoes renovations and oversees the installation of a new fire suppression system.

Beginning Dec. 12, neither the public nor members of the university community will be permitted to enter the chapel or the museum. The project is part of Washington and Lee’s continued efforts to preserve and improve historic buildings on campus.

The Lee Chapel Endowment Fund will also be providing funds to upgrade the building’s track lighting system and to create a new exhibition gallery within the museum.

“We will be working with our museum exhibition designers to create an additional space in which we can feature special displays, including loaned objects,” Lee Chapel curator Patricia Hobbs said. “While we are at it, we plan to add LED lighting and implement other minor updates to the existing galleries, but the overall appearance of the museum will change very little.”

Hobbs also plans to reinstall a temporary exhibition entitled “Lee in the Field” that will run until September 2015 in the chapel’s changing exhibition gallery. The exhibition will feature historic battle flags used by the Liberty Hall Volunteers and the Rockbridge Rifles during the American Civil War.

Lee Chapel is one of the most popular tourist venues in the Rockbridge area, and the university estimates that the site attracts nearly 40,000 visitors each year. Groups from across the country come to learn more about the history of the University and to pay their respects to the Lee family.

The school has attempted to spread the word of the chapel’s closing with announcements on the Washington and Lee website, as well as letters sent to alumni and other friends of the university.

“We have planned for minimal disruption for our tourists; the project is taking place during the time of lowest annual visitation to the museum,” Hobbs said. “Additionally, the Lee Chapel staff and the university’s Communications Office are diligently working to get the word out. The staff is using every means possible to notify the public.”

Lucy Wilkins, Site Manager for Lee Chapel and Museum, hopes that the renovations may encourage visitors to explore the other public exhibitions on campus.

“While the Chapel is closed, we will be working with the Visitor Center to encourage people to come to campus and see the exhibits in Washington Hall, the Reeves Center and Watson Pavilion,” said Wilkins. “In the Reeves Center, visitors will discover the fourth largest collection of Chinese Export Porcelain in the United States.”