Located beside the Duck Pond on the Virginia Tech campus, Solitude (705 West Campus Drive) is the oldest building on campus and one of the oldest in Montgomery County. Solitude was partly built around 1802, other major additions were added around 1834 and 1853.
The adjacent Fraction Family House was built for an enslaved Solitude family in about 1844. That small white house was dedicated to the heritage of the enslaved on the site this spring by the University’s Board of Visitors, which assigned an official name of the Fraction Family House to it.
“The site has almost constantly been a place where different groups were at odds with each other or actually fighting,” said Dr. Puckett, associate professor of Appalachian Studies who is among the people responsible for saving, restoring and researching the house and land and the people who lived there.
“Some of the most outstanding conflicts were the 1755 Shawnee raid when Mary Draper Ingles and others living in what was then called ‘Draper’s Meadow’ were either killed or abducted to Ohio as part of the French and Indian War.
As is well known in this area, Mary and a German woman from what is now Pittsburgh endured a harrowing escape home to Draper’s Meadow, a journey that involved starvation and other depravations. Frightened about further raiding, Mary and her husband, William, left the area with their children and eventually moved to Radford, Virginia,” she said.
Puckett writes that once the core Solitude cabin became Preston property in 1804, the site offered its own contribution to slavery with Fractions and others eventually living on it until after emancipation when fights between the Fractions and owner Robert Taylor Preston emerged. Through the war, Confederate Colonel Robert Taylor Preston fought the Union Army in his own way, primarily, as a procurement officer.
“Knowing how and why Solitude can be called “contested space” is the theme of this year’s Mountains of Music Homecoming contribution,” Puckett said.
The history of the house and its land and the struggles that occurred there extended into the 1980s when the school questioned whether even to preserve the house. To ensure that the site’s historic significance would be protected, Solitude was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
“It was at that point the Appalachian Studies faculty at Virginia Tech, led by Dr. Jean Haskell, began a long effort to save the site and its structures as a place for research on and engagement in Appalachia under aegis of the Appalachian Studies Program,” Puckett said.
In 2010, Dr. Elizabeth Fine, among others including Dr. Puckett, the buildings and surrounding land, were restored to their current condition.
African- and Native American history, apple pie, quilts, toy making and music, June 8
This Saturday, June 8, the Solitude Advisory Board and the Appalachian Studies Program at Virginia Tech will offer a series of performances, demonstrations, and a workshop that will focus on the music, material, and performance lore of the different constituencies contributing to the challenges to institutional power and authority that the site embodies.
Beginning at 10 a.m, revised tours of the two houses and the grounds will more fully recognize the central African American role of the enslaved people who lived on site, as well as the lives of the Prestons, Floyds, and college and VPI faculty living there after 1872. Appalachian Studies professor Dr. Anita Puckett and Thomas Fraction descendant Dr. Kerri Moseley-Hobbs will lead the tours.
Visitors can also enjoy the antique quilts, dating from the 1860s, on display from Ms. Paula Golden’s personal connection. Ms. Golden is past president of the Virginia Quilt Museum and was awarded 2001 Teacher of the Year by The Professional Quilter. The quilts will be on display all day.
The day’s events will be opened at about 11:15 with remarks by Ms. Melissa Faircloth on Native at Virginia Tech and the Native American history of this area. In addition, Dr. Moseley-Hobbs will speak briefly about her family’s history at the site, and then Dr. Puckett will make announcements concerning the day’s activities.
The free lunch will begin at about 11:45 and will offer two West African dishes plus standard Appalachian fare of chicken and dumplings, fried chicken strips, green beans, black-eyed peas, and apple pie. Tables and chairs under a tent on the grounds will offer places to sit and enjoy the Bluegrass music of the Homebody Band while eating and enjoying the company of others.
The afternoon will begin with a dance performance by Fraction family members at about 1:00. It will be followed at 2:00 with Appalachian story telling by Ms. Kathy Coleman, master artist with the Virginia Folklife Program.
Then at 3:00, Ms. Coleman will conduct an Appalachian toy workshop for those 5-12 years old. They will learn about traditional Southern Mountain children’s toys and then make a wooden button of their own to wear or use.
At 4:00, the highly respected NRV gospel singers, the Glorylanders of the New River Valley, will perform spiritual, traditional, and classic gospel music as a spiritual celebration of those who lived and died on the site. They are an all male acappella group who have performed throughout the Mid Atlantic region for 31 years.
At 5:00 Dr. Moseley-Hobbs will perform a West African sanctification blessing outside the Fraction Family House in recognition of those who had been enslaved there as sentient, embodied people whose lives mattered.
Parking is free and next to the site. All activities are also free.
The schedule listed above may be altered somewhat in case of showers. An outside tent will also be available for shelter. The event will be cancelled only in the event of day-long, severe conditions. For event updates, visit the Solitude at Virginia Tech Facebook page at <https://www.facebook.com/SolitudeVT/>.
For further information, including a flyer, visit the Solitude at Virginia Tech Facebook page or contact Dr. Anita Puckett at (540) 231-9526 or firstname.lastname@example.org.