Preserving Greenfield's Slave Dwellings: Efforts to Keep Them Where They Are

Jan 8, 2016

A plan to relocate two slave cabins at the former site of a plantation in Botetourt County has prompted members of the historical society there - and some residents - to take action.

Greenfield Plantation was established in the mid-18th century by Colonel William Preston, a revolutionary war veteran, member of the House of Burgesses, and surveyor westward lands. Though the plantation itself burned down in 1959, two slave quarters remain. Ann Layman, Vice President of the Botetourt County Historical Society, says their proximity to the home is historically significant.

Double slave cabin in its current location.

“The site is on the National Historic Register, and so are those buildings. I mean, the kitchen is only 80 feet away from where the plantation owner lived. So when the house burned down, the logs burned. 80 feet away – they were living in a totally lifestyle from their owners.”

In 1995, the land was purchased by the county. They then received a grant from the Roanoke County Development Foundation to develop a shell building on the site - Cody Sexton is an information specialist with Botetourt County.

“Based on engineering concepts and designs that we’ve seen, layout of the land for various aspects of Greenfield, the site that we’ve chosen, Site C as it’s been called, was the best possible location for that building.”

And building on Site C would require the relocation of the centuries-old slave quarters.

Sexton says, “Archeological surveys have been done at the new site to ensure that there’s nothing existing in the area where the buildings will be placed. Archeological work is continuing at the existing site to make sure that when the movers move the buildings intact that they don’t disturb anything that might be there.”

The former plantation site.

  Though the relocation is promised to be done carefully, some are pointing to the importance of the cabins’ original location.

John Rader is President of the County Historical Society. He says, “That’s one of our purposes in being, is helping preserve and protect the history of Botetourt County. And present. And I have to give the Board of Supervisors credit that they are trying to do some of that. I’m just not sure they’re going about it the right way.”

Tonight, the Historical Society and others are holding a presentation at Central Academy Middle School in Fincastle. While it could be construed a final effort to thwart the relocation, Rader and Layman say they generally hope to raise awareness.

“What I would hope would come from it is an interest, because it is going to take some money – and not the county’s money – to actually restore these cabins,” says Rader.

Layman adds, “And add signs, information, and the plan is to have a visitor’s center that explains the history.”

The presentation will feature a number of speakers, including one named Joseph McGill. McGill founded the Slave Dwelling Project, which seeks to draw attention to preservation efforts of seemingly forgotten slave quarters. Tonight’s event will begin at 7:30 in Fincastle.

The presentation will feature a number of speakers, including South Carolina based Joseph McGill - founder of the Slave Dwelling Project. McGill often sleeps in old slave quarters to draw attention to the importance of restoring them.

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