S.C. Slave Cabin Rescued for Students

The Williams-Earle cabin was one of four slave cabins on the 700-acre plantation in Greenville, S.C.

Credit: Greenville County Schools

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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Submitted by gromit at: February 23, 2010
Um, I think it's 120,000 South Carolina students visiting Roper Mountain Science Center, which is in Greenville, S.C. Thanks for reporting on this. It's a great project.

Submitted by Brian at: February 8, 2010
It's always amazing to hear of surviving pre-Civil war slave structures. Certainly worth saving.

Submitted by Anonymous at: January 20, 2010
Make sure that they know both sides of the story. Do not glorify this time in history but do not turn the students off. I am glad that the cabin was saved but take care as you use this as a teaching tool.

Submitted by Bmanley at: January 13, 2010
The Farm is visited by students from SOUTH Carolina-mainly Greenville and surrounding counties. The Second Saturday of most months the farm is open to the public(fee). As an instructor on the farm , I am thrilled we are able to use this cabin as part of our 5th grade classes on the changes brought about by the Reconstruction Era .