Vanishing in Time
Here are some photos from a work related assignment to document an old Virginia plantation house.
This place is hidden from view, largely unmentioned in historical texts and it’s on private land. In short, it has all but disappeared from the world’s mind.
I am glad I got to photograph it on a dense, foggy morning. I felt like I had stepped into another world while I was there.
Ground was broken for this place before the American Revolution. Historically, it is viewed as a once fine example of Georgian architecture, a place where agricultural science was advanced, and a place of secessionist extremism. One of the people who frequented this place was a member of a notorious group called the “Fire Eaters,” whose mission was to divide the country and preserve slavery and the slave trade.
Walking over the property’s ziggurat-like terraces that step the landscape evenly down from the promontory on which the house sits to the river below, I was preoccupied thinking of all the labor of slaves that must have been required to carve the land and shape it to the will of the plantation owner. This was surely a glorious looking place in its day, but to the slaves it was a prison.
Apparently, the house stood unoccupied but fully furnished for decades, until one day in the 1960’s when careless partiers set fire to it and it burned to the ground. Personally speaking, as one who doesn’t easily abide glorification of the Confederacy, I’m glad when the history of the U.S. Civil War is remembered as a cautionary tale and not as a cause for celebration. To me, this house in ruins provides a visceral evocation of history that is more direct and emotional than the experience of visiting a well preserved plantation.
This is a window on a political world that, to me, looks best in ruin. I wish there could be a way for a place like this to be accessible to the public “as is” – preserved but not packaged. In its current state it provides a powerful view of nature slowly erasing history. There is beauty in its vanishing.
Note: I intentionally did not identify the name or location of this plantation because I had to sneak onto this land to make these pictures. So, this is just between you and me, OK?