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Digitally documenting Botetourt County structures where enslaved people once lived and worked

On a damp December afternoon, a documentarian sets up a tripod with a high-tech camera on top. The camera makes a hum as it scans the interior of the 1860's cabin where enslaved people lived on the Greenfield Plantation in Botetourt County.

Over several days, the four-person crew will scan the interior and exterior of the cabin and two other historic structures on the property. "And then on their computer it would all assemble into the finished product, which is the building, inside and out," explains Jim Johnston.

Johnston and Wendy Warren are with the Greenfield Preservation Advisory Council and recruited the team from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. "They go around the eastern side of the country taking 3-D images of slave dwellings that are in disrepair," Warren says. "I know they’ve documented some buildings that have already been demolished by weather."

The preservation council and Botetourt County hope to use the 3-D images to create online tours for schools and other groups, as well as to provide detailed information for future restoration work.

An oral historian is also collecting stories from descendants. "Whether it’s a descendent of an enslaved person here in the area or a descendent of a tenant farmer, from the late 19th/early 20th century, even Preston descendants. Anybody who is willing to tell their story about what they know about the history of this area and the people who lived here," Warren says.

Located near Fincastle and established in the 1760's, Greenfield Plantation was the owned by the family of Col. William Preston. In 1860, around when the existing slave quarters was constructed, the family enslaved 38 people at Greenfield. After the Civil War, some continued to live there as tenant farmers and many of their descendants still live in the Amsterdam area of Botetourt County.

The NCPTT crew is documenting the cabin and two older buildings— the Greenfield kitchen, built around 1845, and the farm manager's house and kitchen. All three buildings are now in a preservation area at the county's Botetourt Center at Greenfield. The slave quarters and kitchen were moved in 2016 from their original locations to make way for an economic development park. The Greenfield Manor House burned in 1959, according to a report prepared for the preservation council.

Updated: December 6, 2022 at 6:17 PM EST
Editor's Note: Wendy Warren is also an employee of Radio IQ.
David Seidel is Radio IQ's News Director.