Booker T. Washington National Monument near Rocky Mount, Va. Visited: November 1, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 278 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? Site dedicated to Booker T. Washington, a man born into slavery in 1856, who became a major figure in turn of the century United States history. Washington is best known as the longtime president of Tuskegee Institute and intellectual adversary of W.E.B. Du Bois.
BEAUTY (6/10) Beautiful rolling, rural Virginia countryside nestled next to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. On this farm, horses roam, geese squawk, pigs slop and sheep lounge.
The reconstructed slave quarters, tobacco barns and meat curing rafters are not as extensive as they must have been 150 years ago. The horrors of slavery are hard to imagine when everything feels so pleasant. Only when you read and hear stories of the intensive labor it takes to harvest tobacco does the situation fall slowly into perspective.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10) Interestingly, Booker T. Washington’s exploits and achievements are neither the primary nor the sole focus of his eponymous Site. Instead, the Site delves into a much wider reaching and historically vital topic: Virginia and Carolina tobacco farming and the institution of slavery, a subject widely ignored at other relevant National Park Sites.
CROWDS (7/10) We pulled into an empty parking lot. In the time it took to collect the camera and Passport book and lock the car, the lot had suddenly spawned several more cars. Where did everyone come from?
We hurried inside to beat the rush only to find Rangers setting up a special presentation for the afternoon’s Elderhostel tour. They welcomed us and invited us to grab a seat and tag along for the special talk on tobacco cultivation and tour of the grounds.
Have we mentioned we love Elderhostels?
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) The Site is located along Virginia Route 122 in a very rural part of the Commonwealth State about 22 miles from Roanoke and the Interstate 581 spur of I-81. From I-581, you have two choices: 1) Go South along U.S. Route 220 for 17 miles south until you get to the Va. Route 122 intersection at Rocky Mount. The Site is about 15 miles to the northeast along this road; or 2) take Virginia Route 116 south for 15 miles to the Route 122 intersection at Burnt Chimney. The Site is four miles to the northeast.
Choice one is longer, but might be faster. Choice two is the scenic route. Once you get to the Site, an easy grass path, called the plantation trail, meanders from the Visitor Center through the farm where Booker T. was born.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5) The Site has one of the better collections of African American-related history texts we have seen thus far.
COSTS (4/5) No admission fees whatsoever.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5) We spent time with three different Rangers during our short visit. One who gave the tobacco talk; one leading the walking tour. and one who discussed Tuskegee, Booker T. and the lack of an NPS site dedicated to W.E.B. Du Bois at the bookstore.
His response to why no Du Bois site? Because he was a socialist. Michael’s quick response: What about Eugene O’Neill and Carl Sandburg? You know, you make a good point, he added while laughing.
TOURS/CLASSES (5/10) On the day of our visit, we were treated to both a Ranger talk and a Ranger-led tour of the grounds. Neither of these are daily occurrences at the Site but neither were that substantial. We learned more chatting casually with the Ranger left behind to manage the bookstore.
What the Site lacks in daily Ranger-led events and museum space, it compensates for with special events like book signings and lectures from guest speakers held at least twice a month. The Site has even started a Booker T. Washington Book Club which held its first meeting this month.
April 1st marks Booker T. Washington´s 150th Birthday and the Booker T. Washington National Monument´s 50th Anniversary. An all day celebration is scheduled.
FUN (5/10) The Booker T. Washington NM provides an enjoyably rural setting for a peaceful afternoon. We found ourselves lingering even though we had seen and done everything that was offered. We even took advantage of the tables and benches next to the parking lot and had an impromptu picnic.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (6/10) A trip to the Site can easily be fit in your road trip vacation itinerary because it lies just off the heavily vacationed Blue Ridge Parkway. This important historical destination honors a fascinating great American and enjoys a diverse staff of Rangers, all with unique pedagogic specialties.
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