This past May I had the opportunity to participate in “Preservation Week” produced by Preservation Piedmont in Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia. I wrote about a group of historic Black settlements that I was able to visit while I was there. One in particular, the Jesse Sammons house, built c.1850, had just been placed on Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered list. Its existence, along with the family cemetery that contains Mr. & Mrs. Sammons’ graves, was threatened by a proposed highway project. A contract resource survey that focused primarily on architectural significance had dismissed the property as “…has no significant association with any event or person important to our nation’s history and does one appear to have the ability to yield important information. This architectural resource is recommended as individually not eligible for National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) under Criteria A, B. C, or D”. The survey made no mention of nearly twenty eight acres of land once owned by the Sammons family and containing the house and cemetery.
Sammons family descendants and Charlottesville area historic preservationists, including Preservation Piedmont, were successful in requesting an eligibility review from the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. The Keeper sent a representative to inspect the site first hand. Approximately two weeks ago the Keeper issued a written letter stating that the Sammons property is eligible under Criterion B (association with the lives of persons significant in our past) and Criterion D (for its potential to yield important information related to the physical extent of the cemetery). The Keeper’s full letter of determination may be accessed at the following link: http://s3.amazonaws.com/cville/cm%2Fmutlimedia%2F20130827-Keeper-Determination.pdf
The Sammons case provides several lessons for this phase of preservation: 1) All of America’s significant history has not been documented. 2) America’s significant landscape architectural and architectural history is not exclusive to classical design styles. 3) Collective efforts of a group of Americans may be just as significant and heroic as a that of an individual. 4) A significant amount of American, and African American, history lies in the cultural landscape. These are resources composed of embedded layers of environment, land, building and culture.