S.C. Slave Cabin Rescued for Students
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Jan. 6, 2010
Residents of Greenville, S.C., are celebrating the rehabilitation of a c. 1840 slave cabin once threatened by a housing development.
In 2009, locals teamed up to rescue the structure, which was disassembled and moved last March to the Living History Farm at Roper Mountain Science Center, owned by the Greenville County Schools. Since opening in 1985, the science center has relocated 14 historic buildings to its property, which 120,000 North Carolina students visit each year. The cabin will open to students next month.
The two-room cabin "was in pretty bad shape. We managed to [salvage] maybe 50 percent of the original fabric," says Thomas Riddle, secondary social studies consultant at Greenville County Schools, who helped rescue the cabin. "We used many original wall studs, which were really cool because they were recycled from an earlier cabin. We used literally every scrap that we could."
The 23-by-16-foot structure was built before the Civil War by people enslaved by Dr. Thomas Blackburn Williams, and later became a home for families who worked on a nearby farm. The last occupants moved out in the early 1930s.
In 2008 a developer bought the 11-acre property and planned to demolish the cabin, along with seven other historic outbuildings. (The developer rejected the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation's offer to buy the property's National Register-listed Williams-Earle house; that mansion is scheduled to be moved.) Rick Owens, a member of the Greenville County Historic Preservation Commission, convinced the developer to donate the cabin to the Living History Farm.
The History Channel gave the project a Save Our History grant of $8,500, and in October 2009 the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Southern Office, based in Charleston, S.C., gave $1,700 toward the cabin's rehabilitation.
With a new foundation, shingles, and framing, the cabin is scheduled to be dedicated Feb. 12, according to Riddle. Yesterday, as workers painted the exterior of the cabin, curators at the science center gave several classes a sneak peek.
"Although they haven't gotten inside the cabin yet, we're still teaching those kids about the importance of preservation," Riddle says. "And they really got it."
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