Written by Joseph McGill, Jr.
The sixth overnight in my slave cabin project was in Anderson, South Carolina, a city upstate that was founded because of a rail road and cotton. This was a change for me, because all of the slave cabins I stayed in prior were oriented to rivers with rice being the main crop of the plantation.
When I arrived I was greeted by Mike Bedenbaugh, director of the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation. It is because of the Palmetto Trust, the statewide partner of the National Trust, that the four cabins still exist. Threatened with demolition, the Palmetto Trust acquired the cabins and is currently looking for the right buyer to purchase them for restoration. Also there to greet me were two media outlets, a regional TV station and a local outfit doing a documentary. What was unusual was the number of people who were there because they heard about the project prior to my arrival. One of the visitors even brought me a kerosene lamp and gave me permission to keep it as long as I continue to sleep in slave cabins. How thoughtful.
The cabins were totally different than any of the others I have stayed in. They were a lot larger and had the remnants of electricity that once powered the structures. Like the Heyward House in Bluffton, these cabins were in an urban setting. Upon further investigation and a history lesson from Mike, I learned that the cabins had evolved into their current state. As time progressed, rooms were continually added to each of the four structures, which were initially only one room.
During the tour it was evident that the cabins had not been lived in for quite some time and had been protected from the elements and vagrants by plywood placed on the windows and doors. The inability of the buildings to breathe made the smell of mold and mildew quite prominent.
The media and the people who were gathered there were allowed to tour the buildings with us. After the tour my colleague Terry James showed up. Terry is a fellow Civil War re-enactor who was spending the night in the cabin with me. I certainly appreciated Terry’s company that night, as these cabins needed the most attention of any I have slept in thus far, as these cabins did not have some type of public interpretive use. This was an exception – other than McLeod Plantation, all the cabins I’ve slept in were available to the public.
After engaging in extensive conversation with Terry, it was not a problem for both of us to drift off to sleep. When we both woke up the next morning, I proceeded with my usual routine of documenting my stay through photographs and audio visual recordings. Mike then came by to secure the cabin before we all left.
Joseph McGill, Jr. is a program officer at the Southern Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.