The Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation held its 2013 annual meeting in the Virginia Piedmont – the heart of Virginia – centered in the revitalizing City of Lynchburg, the former ferry landing on the James River. From March 20 through March 23, we explored everything from small, personalized ‘poet’ gardens to ‘gentrifying’ regional landscapes (where you can try the local cider products)! The Alliance was yet again blessed with the input from local experts and passionate advocates along the way.
Our primary venue was the Craddock Terry Hotel and Event Center – the original home of the Craddock-Terry Shoe Corporation, at its peak, America’s fifth largest shoe manufacturer. Between our introductory tour of the facility with Hal Craddock (grandson of the founding Craddock) and the resident canine, Buster Brown, all were enthralled with the place.
As has been our tradition for some time, introductions and conversations through the mechanism of the Alliance ’round table’ provided a positive start to the festivities on Wednesday evening.
Thursday morn ...
The new President of the Alliance, Carrie Gregory, welcomed the assembled delegates and noted that it was at the invitation of Jack Gary, the Director of Archaeology and Landscapes at Poplar Forest, that the Alliance hold its annual meeting there. With that in mind, Will Rieley kicked off the conference with a rousing overview of Poplar Forest, which he deemed a “complete architectural thought.” Will’s presentation was followed by that of Eric Proebsting who spoke on the theme of historical ecology, the ‘native landscape’ as well as the transition from tobacco to wheat.
Anticipating his ‘grounds tour’ that afternoon, Jack Gary brought the group up to speed on the on-going threats to Poplar Forest, including the prospects of golf course expansion and tract housing. Soon after, we boarded Bob and Joyce’s (only) bus and were soon en route to Jefferson’s country place.
The plantation, just west of town, provided Jefferson with a retreat where he could “pursue his passion for reading, writing, studying, and gardening after retiring from public life.” Appreciated as one of his most important works, Poplar Forest is shedding new light on Thomas Jefferson’s private world.
On arrival, we were welcomed by Jeffrey Nichols, President/CEO of Poplar Forest. Following a lovely tulip-adorned lunch and blueberry desert, we toured and saw firsthand the ongoing preservation and restoration efforts of both the buildings (Travis McDonald) and landscape (Jack Gary) of the retreat.
Jack Gary (restoring the Poplar Forest landscape) and Barbara Heath (the landscape of slavery) provided the critical commentary and introduced us to ideas such as the concept of ‘clumps’ and curtilages; ‘square’ planting holes, because that’s what archaeologists do; and, eggshells under the microscope. They also graciously signed copies of their co-edited book, Jefferson’s Poplar Forest: Unearthing a Virginia Plantation (2012), a terrific souvenir from this memorable day!
A Brief Aside …
While papers this time were confined but to Friday and Saturday mornings, once again a great diversity and range of ideas was shared, the foundation upon which the Alliance was founded and continues to thrive including: magical places of Italo Calvino’s imagination; innovation found in ‘doing’ even with ‘pesky’ communities; ‘fantastic’ civil engineers!; Andrew Jackson Downing: 19th century’s answer to Martha Stewart; and ‘hodge podge’ (i.e. multiple perspectives).
It is worth noting the successful (and meaningful) participation of a number of students: Audrey Cropp, Laura Shuetz, Thomas Peters, Sara Farr, Jayne Mauric and Theresa Owen including one of the two scholarship recipients, Desiree Valadares (University of Guelph). And we would be remiss if we did not mention our new colleague from far, far away, Paulette Wallace from New Zealand (Kia ora eh?!) presently pursuing her doctorate in Melbourne, Australia. (We do regret that Jobie Hill from the University of Oregon was not able to join us: perhaps next year?)
See link for full listing of abstracts. If you are interested in more details, please pursue with the author/presenter.
It is worth mentioning that beyond one of two most recent scholarship recipients, we also had one of the earliest in attendance, Laura Knott (Sonoma, 2004), currently on our Board!
Following a full morning of interesting papers, we climbed on to the bus and began the afternoon program in western Nelson County (on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains) between Lynchburg and Charlottesville. En route along Highway 29, we stopped in at Pharsalia with tour/commentary by Foxie Morgan, a direct line descendant of the original owner of this 200-year old plantation property (currently experimenting with wine grapes).
While a bit behind schedule at this point, we did make a pitstop at the Bold Rock Cidery. Tasting samples were dutifully enjoyed!
The Alliance finished the afternoon in Charlottesville, with guided visits at the University of Virginia – Jefferson’s ‘Academical Village’ – which he considered to be one of his greatest achievements. We were split into two groups: the architecture tour (Rotunda and pavilions) at the ‘academical village’ led by Brian Hogg; and the landscape tour (incl. back garden) led by Mary Hughes.
On our final afternoon together, the Alliance visited sites in Lynchburg proper, including the Lynchburg Community Market, and the Anne Spencer House and Garden. Anne Spencer was a poet, a civil rights activist, a teacher, librarian, wife and mother, and a gardener. An important person in the African-American literary and cultural movement of the 1920s, her house and garden have been designated by various bodies.
Shaun Spencer-Hester, granddaughter of Anne Spencer, Foundation board member Debbie Spanich, and the indefatigable Jane Baber White, who seems to be omnipresent within this community welcomed us and filled in the details.
And, in spite of some hiccups along the way, Bob got us to the Old City Cemetery where we were met by Ted Delaney, Karen Bracco, and Sue Reid (docent). Its 27 acres boasts 2,200 Confederate gravesites as well as more than 250 varieties of antique roses.
There are some moments in the life of the Alliance that will be forever etched in the collective memory. This was one of them. In spite of some unfortunate vandalism the week previous, we continued on with the banquet at Lynchburg Grows, an urban farm where disabled and disadvantaged persons can garden. We were toured about the mind-boggling operation by three of its lynchpins (and drivers): Michael Van Ness, Scott Lowman, and Kevin Camm.
The meal was fabulous (Piedmont barbecue prepared by Evan Miller and True Q as was the musical accompaniment, singer/guitarist, Alma Hesson. The bar was provided by Meriwether Godsey, who had also provided a delightful sit-down lunch for us on Thursday at Poplar Forest and with brown-bag lunches on Friday.
All in all, the weather on both ends of the journey made it challenging, but always worth the challenge! For the handful of us who toured Monticello on a chilly Sunday afternoon, and who ended up back on the Charlottesville Mall for an early dinner, Mother Nature’s cheeky (but gorgeous) snowfall made the going a little more interesting. At least the weather in between was dry and, for the most part, sunny! Who could ask for more?
In the end, a gangbuster of an event with a hotel and meeting place that was more than what we could have ever expected. The Organizing Committee deserves a load of credit for this tour de force: Carrie Gregory (who led the charge), Lori Lilburn, Laura Knott, Hugh Miller, Rob McGinnis, Gennie Keller, and Liz Sargent. Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!
Mark your calendars for late May/early June 2014 for next year’s adventure in the Twin Cities: St. Paul – Minneapolis. We look forward to seeing you there!