On July 1, 2014, President’s Commission on Slavery and the University co-Chair Kirt von Daacke walked through some extant spaces in the Academical Village where the documentary record has confirmed that slaves lived and worked. Joining me on the trip were commission member Maurie McInnis and architectural history professor Louis Nelson. The University’s Senior Historic Preservation Planner Brian Hogg led the walk-through.
Our walk-through began at Hotel A. The Hotels in the Academical Village were originally dining halls that included living space for the person the Hotel had been contracted out to and space for that Hotelkeeper’s staff (largely slaves). The basement of each Hotel included a kitchen room with a large fireplace for cooking and also two additional rooms that could have been used as living or storage space. Although modern industrial utilities now run through many of the basement spaces in the Academical Village, much of the original layout remains intact.
We also visited the basement of Pavilion X. Those spaces now serve as offices, but the original layout is largely intact, both cooking and heating fireplaces remain in place, and the framing for window bars covering windows to a secure storage room are still visible.
Next, we headed to two basement rooms beneath the Lawn rooms immediately to the south of Pavilion VI. The first room, now filled with all sorts of pipes and wires, is a room that we know served as a slave living space. The next room, also a basement room, now has a sand floor that is infill over an old water cistern. Both rooms have clear evidence that they were finished with plaster. There are quite a few other similar basement rooms along garden side of the Lawn on both sides (though the topography on the east side, with the ground falling away quickly, better lends itself to walk-in access).
From those basement rooms, we headed to the Crackerbox (1830s), a two story outbuilding behind the Pavilion X garden and immediately adjacent to Levering Hall (Hotel F). Again, documentary evidence has confirmed that this building had a first floor kitchen and a second floor slave dwelling space. That represents a very common type of kitchen outbuilding at the time. It appears that most Pavilions at some point moved the kitchens out of Pavilion basements and into a separate outbuilding. As John Michael Vlach has argued, “moving such an essential homemaking function as cooking out of one’s house established a clearer separation between those who served and those who were served” (Vlach, Back of the Big House, 43).
There are at least two other still-standing outbuildings in the Academical Village that were built prior to 1865 that we know served as slave living or work spaces (McGuffey Cottage adjacent to Pavilion IX and The Mews behind Pavilion III). Garden spaces certainly contained
additional slave dormitories (archaeological excavation has confirmed one such building in the Pavilion VI garden).
Pre-Civil War images of the Academical Village and the documentary record make it very clear that there were many other outbuildings—kitchens, smokehouses, stables, slave dormitories, and the like—that dotted the university landscape. These buildings also represented key features of the slave landscape at UVA.
As the President’s Commission continues its efforts, we will continue to wrestle with how best to acknowledge fully the University of Virginia’s indebtedness to slavery and to the enslaved. The day-to-day construction and then decades of maintaining of the university were unimaginable without the labor of dozens and dozens of enslaved people. It was a plantation landscape that contained many features of the urban industrial slave complex. Appropriately acknowledging that past, those lives, and their experiences will demand far more than a few historical markers around Grounds.