BERRYVILLE — The Clermont Foundation will receive an award for its restoration of a structure in which enslaved laborers lived for four decades before emancipation.
The restoration of the “Slave Quarter”, as the building is officially known, was intended to ensure its survival as an educational facility well into the future. The historic 360-acre farm structure in Clermont, east of Berryville, was in danger of collapsing.
The Clarke County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) will next week present a Certificate of Merit to the foundation, along with four people involved in other restoration projects. The certificates, awarded annually, honor those who have successfully renovated historic structures and other places deemed essential to preserving the county’s cultural identity.
Clermont was established on property originally owned by Lord Fairfax and surveyed in 1750 by George Washington, who was 18 at the time. The farm has had several owners over the years. The family of Clarke County attorney and judge Elizabeth Rust Williams owned the farm for 185 years. Upon his death in 2004, Williams bequeathed it to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR).
The private foundation, created by Williams, manages the farm in partnership with DHR. No state funds are allocated to the operations of the farm, which is now a center for research and training in agriculture, history and historic preservation.
Built in 1823 by Dawson McCormick, the slave quarters are the only remaining of three such buildings in Clermont. Historic curators say it is one of the few surviving log duplex slave quarters.
“We had a little row (of buildings) here,” said the foundation’s executive director, Bob Stieg. Archaeologists discovered the foundation of yet another on one side of the remaining structure and artifacts of yet another on the other side, he said.
A $236,000 grant from the National Park Service was secured for the rehabilitation of the remaining structure, which was completed in 2015.
HistoriCorps, a nonprofit that repairs historic buildings and promotes preservation work, oversaw the project. Forty-five volunteers from across the country participated.
The duplex’s stone foundation, log walls and roof structure have undergone repairs. A new coating was installed to protect the logs from the sun and humidity. Much of the original upholstery was lost in bad weather, especially Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
In addition, a new roof covering made of recycled black cypress shingles was installed.
The building’s attic, accessed by a wooden ladder, is now used to show people how a historic building can be preserved, Stieg said. The floorboards were “pressed” to fit their tongues into the grooves, he said. And, the original post rafter logs – still covered in bark – are visible.
“These poor old things have been doing their job (helping support the roof) for over 100 years,” Stieg said, noting how strong the rafters remain.
Anyone entering the attic should be careful: the square nails used in the original roof construction protrude all over the place.
The attic is believed to have once been used to store hay and other farm supplies, Stieg said.
Originally, the building had two large rooms where bonded laborers lived. The rooms were divided into four in 1861.
Some of the logs in the original walls below are visible. The same goes for some of the thin wooden panels on the logs, as well as plaster wall panels, installed around the turn of the 20th century as times began to modernize.
However, the building is largely composed of planked floors and walls. A porch, a small kitchen and a bathroom with plumbing were added over time. Mold stains cover the kitchen and bathroom ceiling, which is no longer usable – small boards cover the toilet sink.
Inside the kitchen are simple wooden cabinets. Other relics that now occupy the building include a salt smokehouse, an old plow and an antique school desk, the writing surface of which is raised to enter the storage compartment for pencils and paper.
History revealed that 10 enslaved people under the age of 12 occupied the structure before emancipation, Stieg said. These children, along with the women, took care of household chores while the men worked in the nearby fields, he said.
In the years following emancipation, the building housed unmarried male farm workers. It was last occupied in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a family who rented it from the Williams family, according to Stieg.
Given its simple construction that has stood for several centuries, “it really is an amazing building,” he said.