Historic trust supports slave cabin preservation

| May 9, 2013

Sweet Briar College has been awarded a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation Fund to preserve and interpret a circa 1840s cabin on the College’s campus.

Humanities scholars will use the $2,500 grant to study and appropriately present its history for public education and inclusion in Sweet Briar’s curriculum.

The former slave dwelling behind Sweet Briar House is the only one remaining of more than two dozen that once stood on the property.

The cabin is on its original site behind the former plantation house that serves as the home of the president of the College. It is the only slave dwelling remaining of more than two dozen cabins that were on the plantation property during the antebellum period.

The cabin is in excellent condition, which is unusual for slave dwellings throughout the South. Many have been allowed to decay and only a few existing cabins are open to the public. Although the Sweet Briar cabin has been in continuous use for about 170 years, much of the building is original. Visitors to the site can imagine what it would have been like to live there.

Lynn Rainville will administer the funds and oversee the project. Rainville is director of the Tusculum Institute at Sweet Briar, a community outreach program dedicated to preserving and studying historical assets locally and in the region. She says the proposed research and outcomes of the Historic Preservation Fund grant offer exactly the kind of educational opportunities Tusculum was created to provide: raising awareness of the past — the people, places and context in which events took place — with emphasis on local history.

“The survival of the cabin in close proximity to the former ‘big house’ enables visitors to understand the hidden history associated with African-American laborers, from antebellum to post-bellum times,” she says.

Writing in support of the grant proposal, Carla Whitfield, superintendent of the Booker T. Washington National Monument, noted the cabin’s history of housing both enslaved African-Americans who built the plantation and freed workers who built the College after its founding in 1901.

“Today the cabin offers numerous opportunities to explore the social and cultural history of Virginia from the mid-1800s, particularly as it relates to American slavery, and beyond,” she wrote.

For more information, contact Rainville at lrainville@sbc.edu or (434) 381-6432.

Jennifer McManamay

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Category: Tusculum Institute