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Jenkins Plantation preservation project aims to restore its past

Aug. 12, 2008 @ 12:00 AM

GREENBOTTOM -- The future of the Jenkins Plantation Museum will shed new light into its past.

In upcoming weeks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopes to begin work on a preservation project at the historic home, located along W.Va. 2 at Greenbottom. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall II visited the Jenkins Plantation Monday morning for a ceremony that kicked off a yearlong project that he hopes will be the first step in bringing the house to life. If everything turns out as planned, the second and third phases will be restoration and reconstruction, Rahall said at the ceremony.

With federal support from Rahall's office throughout the past 20 years, preserving the property along the Ohio River in Greenbottom has been a joint effort between the Corps, the West Virginia Department of Culture and History, the state Division of Natural Resources and the Greenbottom Society.

Tours and public visitation already have ceased so that the project can get under way. The Corps will work on the masonry and roof of the pre-Civil War era house, preserve windows and address moisture infiltration. The Corps hopes to complete the project in 12 to 18 months. A cost for the total project has not yet been nailed down, according to Rahall's office.

The work is intended to preserve the original characteristics of the house, which is historic as the home of Confederate Brigadier Gen. Albert Gallatin Jenkins. Built in the architectural tradition of Tidewater, Va., the home is also recognized as a demonstration of African-American craftsmanship, because it was built by slaves between 1830 and 1835 for Gen. Jenkins' father, William Jenkins.

The Jenkins plantation is listed on the National Register for Historic Places and on the Civil War Discovery Trail.

According to records from the Corps of Engineers, the Corps acquired the surrounding properties, known as the Lesage/Greenbottom Swamp as part of mitigation efforts for the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam Replacement Project. After developing wetlands in the tract, the Corps leased the tract to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, which now manages the land for fish and wildlife benefits. The DNR subleased a four-acre portion of the tract, including the Jenkins House, to the Division of Culture and History, which operates the museum, giving tours to students and visitors to the area.

Rahall said he sees it as a moral obligation to preserve historical places in this country and in West Virginia.

"This is the fabric of America," he said. "This is her heartbeat. Let us take time to listen to it and celebrate it.

"I say that a society that loses touch with its history, with its culture, is akin to a rudderless ship on a stormy sea. Simply put, maintaining our culture and history is something worth fighting for."

And fight they have. It started back in 1988, when Rahall used his influence on the Committee on Public Works and Transportation to have a provision pulled from the Water Resources Development Act. The provision would have transferred the LeSage Greenbottom Swamp to the state, and he went further to put in place a prohibition against the conveyance. He later pushed forward and in three Acts of Congress included measures geared toward keeping the Corps of Engineers on track in preserving the property, he said Monday.

In 2003, he supported legislation that helped fund an archeological dig that turned up information about the house's early structure -- where the kitchen was located and what the foundation of the house was like, said Ned Jones, president of the Greenbottom Society. There's a modern portion of the house that will be deconstructed during this project, and he hopes the home will eventually be reconstructed in its original form.

He also hopes to one day have a reception center to greet school children and tourists.

Between the celebration of black history, the historic home of an Army general and signs of an ancient Native American village near the site -- not to mention the birds, flora and fauna -- there's a lot to show off at the property, he said.

"The sorrow is that it took this long to get where we are today," Rahall said. "The joy is that so many of you heeded the call."

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