One of the speakers was Shaun Spencer Hester, granddaughter of poet Anne Spencer, whose mother and grandmother were born on Rock Springs Plantation.
One of the R.J. Reynolds Collection of tobacco paintings on display at the Reynolds Homestead.
Homestead to expand
By Nancy Lindsey
Rock Spring Plantation became the Reynolds Homestead over the course of about 200 years, but the March 29 event became the "legendary" bicentennial kickoff when the staff discovered that Abram Reynolds purchased the land for the plantation in 1825, not 1814.
The founder did buy some land nearby in 1814, but not the particular tract where the old homeplace was built, said Lisa Martin, senior program manager for the Homestead.
"That's how history evolves," Martin said. She said the program, called "The Past, the Present and the Future," would explore "how we got to be where we are and where we're going in the future."
The first speaker was Mary Sue Terry, a Critz native and former attorney general whose parents, N.C. ("Nat") Terry and Nannie Ruth Cooper Terry, were instrumental in the development of both the Reynolds Homestead and the nearby Hardin Reynolds Memorial School.
Nat Terry, an agriculture teacher and principal of HRMS, believed that a person had "nothing to lose" by going after a desired objective, Mary Sue Terry said.
When her father was asked how he got the governor of Virginia to come to a Future Farmers of America banquet in Critz, he answered, "I just asked him," Terry said.
"Mama was the same way," Terry said.
She said her mother was concerned about the deterioration of the old Reynolds homeplace, and decided to get in touch with Nancy Susan Reynolds, daughter of R.J. Reynolds, founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
In 1967, Nannie Ruth Terry wrote a letter to Reynolds and convinced her to come to Critz. She picked her up at the Spencer airport and showed her the "broken-down homestead," which at one time had a Shetland pony living in the foyer, Terry said.
The determined school teacher did convince Reynolds to restore the house, and by 1970 it had become a state and national landmark. Reynolds also deeded the home and 717 acres to Virginia Tech.
Terry said the Reynolds Homestead was restored by the same group that restored Old Salem in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Both her parents had the same philosophy about trying, success and failure, Terry said: "The worst answer you can get is no."
THE MORE DISTANT PAST
Martin introduced the next speaker, Shaun Spencer Hester, granddaughter of the internationally recognized black poet, Anne Spencer (1882-1975).
Anne Spencer's mother was born on Rock Spring Plantation in 1868, and her grandmother was born a slave on the plantation, Martin said.
"We didn't know this when we asked her to speak," Martin said of Hester.
Hester said Spencer was so determined to succeed that as a 12-year-old, she convinced "a board of white men" to let her enroll in the Virginia Theological Seminar in Lynchburg.
A biography called "Time's Unfading Garden," by Dr. J. Lee Green, describes "Anne Spencer's Life and Poetry."
The Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum are located in Lynchburg and are preserved by the Hillside Garden Club and the Garden Conservancy, according to a brochure at the Homestead.
Hester discussed and showed photos of her ancestors, including Sarah Louise Scales, wife of Joel Cephus Bannister, who ran a bar in Martinsville.
"Sarah's mother was a slave and her father was a wealthy Virginia aristocrat," Hester said.
According to Spencer's biography, Sarah was believed to be the illegitimate daughter of R.J. Reynolds, Hester said.
"We weren't talking about slavery yet," Hester said, when she met Nancy Susan Reynolds at the Reynolda House in the spring of 1978. "Now is the time."
The subject and all its implications should no longer be "taboo," Hester said.
Martin said Matthew Traucht, a landscape architect and Reilly Fellow with the Garden Club of Virginia, has been helping the Homestead staff in planning to create historic gardens.
Traucht said the staff and volunteers have both assisted him and been an inspiration.
"They stated what they thought was important," he said. "They have a commitment to the history of the place and stewardship."
Traucht said he has been studying photos, deeds, surveys and maps--including soil maps and a 1751 map of the area.
His research is geared toward determining the gardens that may have existed on the plantation in the past.
"I've been trying to put together the puzzle that is the Reynolds Homestead," Traucht said.
Archaeological digs as well as memories and written materials demonstrate that the place has a "strong agricultural heritage," Traucht said.
According to a Homestead brochure, "the Reynolds Homestead Forest Resources Research Center was created in 1969 to study forest biology including genetics, physiology and soils. Nearly 800 acres of isolated land that is largely wooded, and downstream from an undisturbed watershed, provide ideal conditions for forestry research.
Julie Walters-Steele, director of the Reynolds Homestead, spoke about "Looking Forward," specifically plans for expanding the existing learning center into the Community Enrichment Center.
Walters-Steele said the staff is looking at a 10-year strategic plan that will include adding needed space and features to allow varied activities.
According to the Homestead brochure, the renovated facility will include a smart classroom to provide distance learning programs; a cafe and marketplace to allow local artisans and producers a way to display and sell their products; gallery space for exhibitions, and an interpretive history of the Reynolds family and Rock Springs Plantation; a theater for arts and cultural programs; an art studio and classroom; a training kitchen to provide space for culinary classes; and an expanded multipurpose space to accommodate larger events.
Walters-Steele said the library will also be expanded, and there will be more space for interpretive programs designed for children.
Martin said there will be a campaign to raise funds for the capital project, and funds will be sought from grants, Virginia Tech, the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Development Foundation, private foundations, and individual contributions.
"Graduate students from Virginia Tech's College of Architecture... led focus groups with community members to assess program needs, and developed a conceptual plan for an expansion to the existing facility," according to the Homestead brochure.
The March 29 Legendary Bicentennial Celebration kickoff was sponsored by the Friends of the Reynolds Homestead and included a wine and cheese reception.
The R.J. Reynolds Collection of tobacco-themed paintings was on display during the event.