New Cabin Will Showcase The Role Of Slavery In Colonial Times
By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
Down a long, winding lane in Earleville, a plantation continues to add structures.
Mt. Harmon Plantation management and volunteers work to give visitors an authentic experience of what life was like in colonial days when the vast plantation raised crops to earn money and had to create a self-sufficient existence.
When Mt. Harmon opened for visitors, the tour included the mansion house and the gorgeous views of the land and waterfront. The creek that runs along the plantation’s property opens into the nearby Sassafras River. Through the years, improvements have been added. The formal garden on the east side of the property has been nurtured. The colonial kitchen building has been outfitted with the pots and pans of colonial times and volunteers re-create old recipes and tell of cooking for the plantation owners and workers. A building was constructed to serve as an educational center. There is a prize house down by the plantation’s wharf, which is located along one of the trails at Mt. Harmon.
The plantation is now in the midst of a three phase construction project.
“This is a project to recreate the plantation’s outbuildings,” explained Mt. Harmon director Paige Howard. “There were many, many farm buildings that didn’t meet the test of time.”
The first building was a smokehouse. In colonial times, the smokehouse was the way meat was preserved. Three years ago, the smokehouse was built next to the colonial kitchen.
The next project was a colonial tobacco barn. Tobacco was the major cash crop at Mt. Harmon. Howard said it would have been a key structure for the plantation, but early records for Mt. Harmon did not include the exact location of the tobacco barn. Many plantation buildings would have been constructed without a substantial stone foundation that would give a clue of its location to future generations long after the simple wooden structures disappeared. Howard said while the earliest records do not mention the exact location of the barn and other structures, later writings on the plantation give detailed accounts of the life on the plantation and the location of buildings.
The new tobacco barn was built in a field south of the plantation mansion. It adds to the view from the main house, without blocking any of the water views. It is also where a small crop of tobacco is planted each season to give visitors a look at the cash crop for the original plantation.
The colonial tobacco barn was completed in November, just in time for Mt. Harmon’s annual Yuletide celebration weekend in early December.
The tobacco barn will house the plantation’s agricultural museum.
“It was an important building to reconstruct for Mt. Harmon,” Howard said.
Since the barn was vital to the operation of the plantation, Howard said they wanted to make sure they got the structure built correctly. They looked to other historic sites, including George Washington’s Mt. Vernon and Tracy’s Landing in Maryland.
“We’re just thrilled the way it came out,” Howard said.
With the barn completed, Mt. Harmon Plantation has begun planning for phase three of this construction series which is a small cabin that will show what life was like for the workers of Mt. Harmon.
Howard said the plantation would have populated by the owners and managers of the property, indentured servants who spent years working off the cost of their boat ticket that brought them to the New World and the slaves.
“Slavery was part of the plantation culture,” Howard said, explaining that the small cabin, that will be built near the colonial kitchen building and smokehouse, is the best way to let visitors see what life was like for the slaves on the plantation.
It will be a small, single room building with a chimney. Howard said housing for the slaves on a plantation would have been in several locations, keeping the workers close to the areas where they worked on the property. The cabin being constructed near the mansion would have been for slaves who worked in the mansion. There would have been cabins for those working on the farm and then for those who worked at the wharf where plantation products would have been placed on boats to head out to distant markets.
“The buildings allow us to better tell a story,” Howard said. “People are interested in history and also the buildings of the past.”
When they construct a structure at Mt. Harmon Plantation, work is done to make sure it is an authentic representation of what would have existed on the original plantation.
“We work with historians and our board of directors,” she said.
The buildings added to Mt. Harmon are built in the same manner as they would have been constructed in colonial times,” Howard explained.
For the tobacco barn, it is a typical timber frame construction. It is 24 feet by 42 feet. The heavy framing timber is sheathed in one-inch by twelve-inch rough cut siding and a cedar shake roof with a 55 percent pitch.
Howard said the cabin will be constructed during the summer and should be done in September, in time for the National colonial reenactment weekend.
The plantation continually raises funds to help with their construction projects. They also rely on grants from the Crystal Trust Foundation and the National Trust for Preservation.
Mt. Harmon Plantation has a busy calendar for 2018. In addition to their annual events that include the 5K in April, Lotus festival in August, paperchase equestrian ride, colonial dinner and yuletide event, the plantation is part of the annual Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage on May 20. The September reenactment will bring many people from all over North America to participate, as well as many visitors who will learn how war was conducted in colonial times.
Additionally, Mt. Harmon Plantation has a vibrant educational program for school children.
“Our school program brings 1,000 school children here each year,” Howard said.
With all of these events and programs, Mt. Harmon Plantation is always looking for more people to become involved.
“We’re a volunteer-dependent organization,” Howard said. People can help with specific events, with school groups or with their tour program.
Howard said the vision for Mt. Harmon Plantation is to offer an authentic look at life on a colonial plantation.
“We are a vignette of colonial Williamsburg,” Howard said.