Hurricane Irene Meets Historic Plantation…and My Wedding


   
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Last spring, when Ashleigh and I were looking for venues to host our wedding, we wanted to get married in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, near to the place where we met. We visited a number of different sites, but the one we settled on was Sotterley Plantation, the oldest remaining Tidewater plantation in Maryland. Built in 1703, it has a wonderful manor house with a beautiful portico, historic barn, spinning cottage, warehouse, restored slave quarter, and wonderful gardens, all looking out on the Patuxent River. Upon arrival, we knew it would be the site of our wedding. It certainly reflects a lot of our own personality, and emphasizes the importance of the past to our relationship. Most of all, I’m happy that the money spent on renting the site will go towards the maintenance of such an important site. The plantation is a historic landmark, a museum, and has been subject to many archaeological investigations. We’re excited for our wedding to take place at a site of such important historical significance.

Unfortunately, disaster struck the weekend of hurricane Irene. Due to heavy rains before the storm, and the strong winds during it, a number of the large trees that make up the plantation have fallen. Reports from their website indicate that almost all of the buildings have suffered damage, some more than others:

Although trees lay atop the roofs of the Slave Cabin, the Historic Barn, and the Spinning Cottage, none of these buildings appear to have suffered serious damage. The Smoke House roof is shattered but the brick walls remain standing, though it has yet to be determined whether or not the walls have been structurally compromised. The Plantation House porch and sections of the kitchen roof will require complete rebuilding. The Grape Arbor is now non-existent. Some of the trees were iconic, well over 100 years old, and a tremendous loss in and of themselves.

While insurance should cover much of the rebuilding, Sotterley is asking for donations to help them with the tree removal. Nearly 30 trees are down, and many of them are enormous (a 100 year old tree is a big tree). Today, I got off the phone with the folks at Sotterley. While they have managed to clean up the trees, the cost was enormous. They had over 100 trees fall on their property. While the cost of repairs of the buildings are partially covered by insurance, the cleanup of debris and trees was not. Additionally, repairs on a historic property such as Sotterley is not a quick patch it up job: the repairs must be conducted in a manner that restores and maintains the historical integrity of the structure. As you can imagine, this is a bit more expensive then normal. They are in need of public support to cover these costs, and the conversation I just had made that clear.

So, I’m writing this post to ask for your help. In part, this is a selfish move: we’re going to get married there, and we would like the site to be in tip-top shape for us to enjoy. More importantly, however, is the historical importance of the site, and the need for these repairs to happen as quickly as possible. This place serves as a critical icon of the past, and an opportunity for visitors to learn about life in the 18th and 19th centuries in Maryland. In particular, the newly restored slave cabin is one of the few original cabins that has been so thoroughly restored, and provides a rare chance to have a glimpse into what life was like for African Americans during enslavement. Any condition that leaves this venue strapped for cash is something we should all be concerned about. Please, take the time to follow this link and make a donation. We will also be using our wedding as a vehicle for contributions, including donation jars at the actual wedding and opportunities to donate via our registry. Ashleigh and I are extremely grateful for your contributions!

UPDATE: Sotterley has posted a thank you to the many people who have contributed. Join the list!

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About Terry Brock

Terry is an archaeologist who lives in Virginia with his fiancee and is writing his PhD at Michigan State University. In his spare time, he writes for Gradhacker, an Inside Higher Ed Blog, and tweets @brockter. His favorite thing he's ever written is Swimming Buddies and a Pipe Cleaner Necklace.