Pictured: The 19th century slave quarter at Bacon’s Castle undergoing chimney stabilization.
SURRY COUNTY (Nov. 1, 2018) – Preservation Virginia, a private, non-profit organization and historic preservation leader based in Richmond, has begun restoring the 19th century slave quarter and smoke house located on the property of their historic site, Bacon’s Castle. The non-profit’s efforts to preserve the slave quarter and smoke house, built in 1829 and 1844 respectively, have enabled them to tell the story of plantation life in Southside Virginia for nearly 50 years.
Restoration of the smoke house will consist of adding additional brick layers to the building’s original foundation so newly constructed sills will sit above ground. Positioning the sills above ground will prevent ground water damage to the structure. The slave quarter will undergo extensive masonry repairs on the chimneys and the fireboxes will be rebuilt. Additional framing stabilization will allow visitors to access the first floor of the structure, which is currently inaccessible.
“Bacon’s Castle is more than the big house, Preservation Virginia has the opportunity to preserve the rare extant buildings from the original plantation work yard to tell a more complete story about Virginia’s history,” stated Jennifer Hurst-Wender, Preservation Virginia’s director of museum operations and education. “The slave quarter and smoke house preservation allows us to explore the everyday lives of people who were enslaved and later, those who share cropped the very same land.”
The James River Institute for Archaeology has conducted studies around the smoke house and slave quarter. The excavations around the smoke house this fall revealed a layer of oyster shells found in the ground near the smoke house believed to have been placed by the Warren family that owned Bacon’s Castle from about 1880 to 1972. Previous excavations around the slave quarter revealed many unique artifacts from the 19th and 20th century occupation of the structure.
Virtually unaltered, today the smoke house contains hooks on moveable beams that would have hung salt-cured pork while a low, smoky fire burned on the earthen floor. The building was not intended to cook the meat, but rather seal it with a smoke barrier. In the early decades, the process would have been carried out and overseen by the enslaved people at Bacon’s Castle.
The slave quarter is a two-story, four room structure with two chimneys and four hearths. By the 20th century, the slave quarter was used as a tenant farm house and had electricity and a kitchen addition.
Upon completion of all restoration work, the slave quarter and smokehouse will have new interpretation and signs that will tell the story of these spaces and the people who lived there.
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