Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Booker T. & Mr. J.

Wednesday 3/23

On the way across from Roanoke to Appomattox on Monday afternoon we saw signs for the Booker T Washington Birthplace National Monument and Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. So, making the best of being stranded here in Appomattox, we doubled back this morning and visited Booker T Washington’s birthplace. A very nice, small national monument that was well worth the trip. This was the farm where Mr. Washington was born as a slave and where he lived until he was nine years old. We all know the story of Booker Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, but the one thing that really struck us while watching the short film about his life is that he had tea at Buckingham Palace with Queen Victoria! This man who was born a slave on this small farm in rural Virginia lifted himself up from what could have been a life of crushing poverty to a position in the world where he became a guest of the Queen of England - wow!

Signage in the monument points out that prior to the Civil War half of the slaves in the south lived and worked on farms like this with less than twenty slaves. They also pointed out the fact that owners of these farms were economically devastated by emancipation. The owner of this farm for example owned assets, other than the farm land, totaling $7,100, but his slaves were $5,500 of that total. So more than 75% of his wealth was in slaves which were suddenly declared valueless!

After leaving the Washington Birthplace National Monument we stopped at Fat Daddy’s BBQ in Bedford, VA. Tiny place with a few seats at a counter and tables outside (we ate outside). Pretty good pulled pork.

Then we visited Poplar Forest, Thomas Jeffersons “country villa”. Jefferson’s wife Martha inherited the 4,000 plus acres at Poplar Forest from her father shortly after they were married. The farm there provided the Jeffersons with much needed income and over the next forty years Mr. Jefferson only visited there four times, once in 1781 when the family fled Monticello just hours ahead of the British and took refuge at Poplar Forest for several months. In 1806, two years before leaving the presidency he began construction of his country villa, probably the first octagonal house built in America.

About 75 miles from Monticello as the bird flies, Jefferson visit here several times a year after leaving the presidency and it provided him a retreat from constant visitors to Monticello. Traveling here Jefferson took a round about route of about 93 miles to avoid intervening mountains.

Nancy & I wondered why we had never heard of this house and it turns out that it was only acquired by the Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest in 1984 and opened to the public in 1986. Restoration of the exterior of the house has been completed and the interior restoration is just beginning, while archaeological research continues on the landscaping and grounds. The $14 admission is a bargain as it includes a docent guided tour of the interior of the house and a hand held, GPS triggered, video guide to the rest of the grounds. Well worth a stop if you are in the area.

Stopped at the Cracker Barrel in Lynchburg on the way back home, just to keep our record intact! Blackhawks game on TV tonight.

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