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The Gilmore Cabin and Farm, the home of freedman George Gilmore and his wife, Polly, will open to the public on Saturday at James Madison's Montpelier
The Gilmore Cabin and Farm, the home of freedman George Gilmore and his wife, Polly, will open to the public on Saturday at James Madison's Montpelier


Date published: 4/14/2005

By eorge Gilmore

THE FREE LANCE-STAR

In 1880, 15 years after the Civil War ended, freedman and farmer George Gilmore's personal property included one horse, two cows, four swine and various poultry. All together, his assets were worth $26.

Gilmore, a former slave at President James Madison's estate of Montpelier in Orange County, lived with his family in a 1-story cabin on land he leased from Dr. James Madison, a great-nephew of the president.

"They were pretty representative of what an African-American household looked like at the time," said Matthew Reeves, director of archaeology at Montpelier.

The Gilmores' cabin fell into disrepair after the last members of the family quitted the dwelling in the 1930s, but Montpelier officials have spent the last four years researching, stabilizing and restoring the structure to tell the story of the Gilmore family.

"The driving motivation was that we wanted to be able to tell the story of the African-American experience here at Montpelier, as well as that of the Madisons," said Jon Bowen, Montpelier's director of communications.

The Gilmore Cabin and Farm will be open to the public for the first time on Saturday, and it will remain open on Saturdays and Sundays through October.

John Charles Thomas, the first black justice on the Supreme Court of Virginia, will speak at the opening, and 14 State Supreme Court justices from around the country will attend.

The Gilmore Cabin is believed to be the first restored freedman's home in the United States, "based on our discussions with peer sites around the country," Bowen said.

Stabilizing the home, which was built in 1873, was the first priority, he said. Then, restoration crews repaired exterior walls, installed wooden shingles, built doors, replaced flooring and an interior ladder to the second floor, built window boxes and re-trimmed windows and doors.

Finally, the 16-by-30 cabin was lime-washed inside and out, and furnished with period objects.

Descendants of the Gilmores worked with Montpelier to research the cabin, and other information came from census records and an oral history project undertaken by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Reeves said.

Census records show that George Gilmore was born around 1810, and his wife, Polly, was born about 15 years later. The couple married in 1850.


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