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National Register of Historic Places
Registration Form (excerpt)

8. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE

The Kentland Farm Historic and Archaeological District constitutes the core area of an extensive nineteenth-century holding located on the New River in northwestern Montgomery County, Virginia. At the heart of the district is the brick I house known as Kentland, built in 1834-35 by Montgomery County's largest antebellum landholder, James Randal Kent (1792-1867). The Kentland house has sophisticated Federal and Greek Revival detailing. The district also includes a hexagonal brick meat house and a large mid-nineteenth-century frame barn of unusual construction. Equal in importance to the architecture at Kentland Farm are its prehistoric resources, including an assemblage of Late Woodland village or camp sites. Archaeological resources are also associated with the historic occupation of the district which has been cultivated continuously from the eighteenth century through the present. The district incorporates Buchanans Bottom, one of the earliest patented tracts on the New River drainage (1750), as well as a portion of Adam Harmon's mid-eighteenth-century ford on the New River, the southern terminus of the Shenandoah Valley Indian Road ordered built by the Orange County Court in 1745. James R. Kent, who acquired the land comprising the district in the early nineteenth century, amassed holdings of 6,000 acres by 1860, worked by 123 slaves. Kent's son-in-law and successor, John Thomas Cowan (1840-1929), managed Kentland Farm during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when it ranked among the half dozen largest farms in the county. A number of agricultural buildings dating to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries survive in the district. Also in the district are the nineteenth-century Kent-Cowan Mill and transportation-related features such as the aforementioned Harmon's Ford and the Kentland approach drive, a section of the early-nineteenth-century Brown's Ferry Road.

JUSTIFICATION OF CRITERIA

The Kentland Farm Historic and Archaeological District is being nominated to the register under Criteria A, B, C, and D. The district is eligible for its agricultural and industrial resources under the Criterion A Agriculture and Industry areas of significance as defined by the "Agricultural Architecture, 1745-1940" and "Industrial Architecture, 1745-1940" contexts of the "Prehistoric and Historic Resources of Montgomery County, Virginia" Multiple Property Listing (hereafter referred to as the Montgomery County MPL). The district is also eligible under the Criterion A Exploration/settlement area of significance for Harmon's Ford and other evidence of eighteenth-century occupation. The district is eligible under Criterion B for its association with Adam Harmon, one of the New River Valley's earliest settlers, and for its association with James R. Kent and John T. Cowan, leading Montgomery County agriculturalists and entrepreneurs during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The district is eligible under the Criterion C Architecture area of significance as defined by the "Domestic Architecture, 1745-1940" and "Agricultural Architecture, 1745- 1940" contexts of the Montgomery County MPL for the refined Kentland house and meat house and for a complex of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century farm buildings. The Kentland Farm Historic and Archaeological District is eligible under the Criterion D Archeology: Prehistoric area of significance as defined in the "Prehistoric Settlement Patterns" context of the Montgomery County MPL and under the Archeology: Historic - Non-aboriginal area of significance for the rich assemblage of prehistoric and historic sites on the farm. The period of significance for the Kentland Farm Historic and Archaeological District extends from 800 A.D., the beginning of the archaeological period defined as the Late Woodland, until 1940, a date that brackets the decade of the 1930s when the last historically significant agricultural buildings were built on the property.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Kentland Farm is situated on the east side of the New River below the mouth of Toms Creek on a parcel of land which is recorded as one of the earliest patents in what is now Montgomery County. The farm contains some of the richest land in the region and has been owned by a succession of important leaders in pioneer settlement and commercial agriculture. An Orange County Order Book entry in 1745 reported that James Patton and John Buchanan had viewed and marked off a road from the "Frederick County Line to....Adam Harman's on the New or Wood's River." Adam Harmon served as overseer of the road to the New River in 1746 and as Captain of the local militia under Augusta County jurisdiction. In 1750/1 Adam Harmon's tract, "500 acres of Land lying on the north [and east] side of the New River on Toms Creek oposite to the lower end of the horse Shoe Bottom," was entered in the Augusta County Surveyors Record. Adam harmon's 500 acre tract roughly approximates the land included in this nomination of Kentland Farm.

Adam's brother Jacob also obtained a survey of 985 acres across the river on "Horse Shoe Bottom," in 1750/1, and the survey of Jacob's patent, "Beginning at an Iron Wood tree at Adam harmon's ford," fixes the Harmon ford at the shallows which are still apparent just downstream from the island at Kentland Farm.1 In 1752 Adam and Jacob harmon received patents from Augusta County for their lands discussed above. Jacob was killed by Indians in 1756 and Adam lost his 500 acres in 1763 for tax arrears.2

Colonel John Buchanan became the next owner of the "tract on the east side of the New River where Adam Harman formerly dwelt, containing 500 acres." John Buchanan had begun service in Augusta County as deputy surveyor in the 1740s. He later became deputy sheriff and in 1755 succeeded Colonel James Patton as commander-in-chief of the Augusta County militia. When he died in 1769, Buchanan's will named his son John as heir to "the 500 acres formerly Harman's." The tract, known thereafter as Buchanans Bottom, remained in possession of the Buchanan family until 1792.

Abram Trigg purchased Buchanans Bottom in 1793. Trigg had commanded Montgomery County troops during the American Revolution. He had represented Montgomery County at the Virginia convention of 1788 which ratified the federal constitution, and he represented western Virginia in Congress from 1797 to 1809. During the years of his congressional service, Abram Trigg and his wife Susannah acquired additional lands adjoining Buchanans Bottom where they may have resided. The 1810 census for Montgomery County recorded Trigg as the head of a household of seven whites and no slaves. The 1813 Land Book for Montgomery County shows him in possession of the 500 acre Buchanans Bottom tract and three other parcels with all four parcels totaling 1,781 acres.3

In 1813 three brothers, Gordon, Thomas, and David Cloyd, paid Abram and Susannah Trigg $10,000 for a 1,630 acre tract which comprised all of the land "owned or held by...Trigg on the east side of New River, adjoining and below Toms Creek." Joseph Cloyd, father of Gordon, Thomas, and David, had commanded militia forces during the Revolution, after which time he built his home at Back Creek Farm around 1790 on land, now in Pulaski County, about seven miles from Buchanans Bottom. Joseph's oldest son Gordon built his home at Springfield adjacent to Back Creek Farm around 1800. The 1820 Montgomery County Land Book, the earliest to record building evaluation, showed Joseph Cloyd paying taxes at Back Creek Farm with buildings valued at $3,500; Gordon Cloyd paid taxes at Springfield with buildings valued at $1,500; and Gordon, Thomas, and David Cloyd paid taxes at Buchanans Bottom where buildings were valued at $200. Sometime around 1820 Gordon Cloyd bought out his brothers' interest in the 1,630 acre "tract of land upon New River called Buchanan's Bottom" and gave the land to his daughter Mary who had married James Randal Kent in 1818.4

The 1820 census recorded James R. Kent as the head of a Montgomery County household comprised of himself, his wife, and two young daughters. In addition he owned 15 slaves. In 1821 James Kent paid taxes for the first time on the 1,630 acre tract where he and Mary would live for the remainder of their lives.

James and Mary Kent were the intermarried descendants of families who had gained wealth and influence in southwestern Virginia during the period of the American Revolution. Their common grandparent James McGavock was a staunch Scotch-Irish Presbyterian and a member of the committee of fifteen which drafted the Fincastle Resolutions in 1775. James McGavock married Mary Cloyd in 1760, and their daughter Margaret married militia colonel Joseph Kent in 1787. Colonel Joseph Kent and Mary Cloyd Kent raised 14 children on their estate at Kenton in Wythe County; James R. Kent was their fourth child. Elizabeth, another daughter of James McGavock, married her first cousin Gordon Cloyd of Back Creek in 1797; Mary Cloyd, their eldest daughter, completed the family ties at Kentland when she married her first cousin James Kent in l8l8.

Well married and established on rich New River bottom lands by 1821, James R. Kent proceeded to make Kentland the most prosperous plantation in Montgomery County. He served as deputy sheriff of Montgomery County in 1822 at about which time he began to accumulate land holdings in addition to the homeplace at Buchanans Bottom. By 1830 he paid taxes on the 1,630 acre parcel at the mouth of Toms Creek where buildings were then valued at $250, and he owned two more parcels of undeveloped land which totaled 2,605 acres and contained no evaluated buildings. The 1830 census recorded James Kent as the head of a household which included himself, his wife, and four daughters. In that year he owned 39 slaves. The following year Kent acquired an additional parcel of 169 acres on both sides of Toms Creek near its mouth, and the 1832 Land Book showed buildings valued at $100 on that tract. The buildings on the 169 acre parcel may have been associated with the mill just east of Toms Creek which is shown as belonging to James Kent on James Herron's map of 1833-34.

Sometime around 1834 James Randal Kent probably built the formal brick residence which survives today and is known as Kentland. When James Kent's father-in-law Gordon Cloyd prepared his last will and testament in November 1832, Cloyd specified, "I have already given to my daughter Mary, wife of James R. Kent, the tract of land upon New River called Buchanans Bottom. Should that gift need any confirmation, I do ratify and confirm it." Cloyd's will also provided for Mary to inherit 100 shares of stock in two Virginia banks and for James Kent to receive "my third part of 80,000 acres of land lying in Giles County." After Gordon Cloyd's death in May 1833, James and Mary Kent may have decided to build a new house because they had just received confirmation of their title to the land at Buchanans Bottom and because they were now in receipt of a substantial additional inheritance of real and personal property. Montgomery County Land Books provide additional evidence supportive of a circa 1834 construction date for Kentland: from 1828 to 1834 buildings on Kent's 1,630 acre tract on the New River at the mouth of Toms Creek were valued at $250; from 1835 to 1850 buildings on that tract were valued at $2,500. Since Joseph Cloyd's buildings at Back Creek Farm were valued at $3,500 and Gordon Cloyd's buildings at Springfield were valued at $2,500 during the 1820s, and since Kentland closely resembled the dwellings at Back Creek Farm and Springfield, it seems likely that Kentland was not constructed in its present form until just before 1835 when the value of buildings at Kentland Farm first rose to a comparable evaluation of $2,500.5

James Kent substantially increased his wealth and influence in Montgomery County between 1835 and the Civil War. By 1840 he owned about 6,000 acres of land and 90 slaves.6 Two decades later his 6,000 acres of farm land valued at $126,000 and his 123 slaves made him by far the county's most prosperous planter; no one else in Montgomery County in 1860 owned farm land valued at more than $63,000 or more than 71 slaves. The 123 slaves of James Kent were quartered in 13 slave houses in 1860 when the Kent farms kept 40 horses and 1,100 other head of livestock and raised 15,000 bushels of corn and 3,600 bushels of grain. In addition to his agricultural estate and slaves, Kent owned personal property valued at $196,000 in 1860. This included substantial holdings in the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs Company, a resort near the present community of Ellett, whose buildings were valued at $89,000 in 1859, as well as shares in three Virginia banks and in the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad Company.

Apparently James Kent's extensive financial interests occupied most of his time and energy for he never held elective office, though he did serve as a Montgomery County Justice in 1842 and 1845 and as the Montgomery County Surveyor in 1847. From 1849 to 1853 Kent played a leading role in promoting construction of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad through Montgomery County. In this capacity he attended at least one meeting of the Virginia Board of Public Works as a representative of Virginia and Tennessee stockholders. Successful in securing construction of the main line through Christiansburg by late 1853, Kent failed in his efforts to promote a branch line which would cross his plantation on the New River. Consequently, in October 1853 he asked to be relieved of his reporting responsibilities to the Board of Public Works, requesting the appointment of someone in his stead "who will have more leisure than myself." In 1855 Kent also served as a Trustee of Olin and Preston Institute, a precursor of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Montgomery County and James Kent experienced hard times during the Civil War. Military records have not been found to substantiate family tradition which tells of a devastating Yankee raid on Kentland following the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain in May 1864, but a Montgomery County Order Book specified in November 1864 "that James R. Kent be exempted from paying the County levy for the year 1864 on 44 negroes and 38 horses which were taken by the public enemy previous to the laying of the said levy."7 Another entry from the Montgomery County Order Book in January 1865 recorded the appointment of a special committee with instructions to present a memorial to the Governor of Virginia which stated that "within the past twelve months a large number of the able bodied negroes have been carried off by or made their escape to the Yankees." Because "almost all the ablebodied and efficient white laborers have been withdrawn from the cultivation of the soil and placed in the army," and because slaves had been captured or escaped, the memorial explained that "the surplus of crops made by the labor of the county during the past year has not been sufficient to feed the families of the soldiers....and a great portion of our population will be reduced to destitution and great suffering." James Kent was not destitute at the close of the Civil War, but his estate certainly suffered substantial losses in consequence of the conflict. When he died in 1867, his land holdings were evaluated at $74,000, 41% less than in 1860, and his personal estate probably suffered at least a comparable reduction in value.

James Kent's wife Mary had predeceased him in 1858; and when he prepared to divide his property among his five surviving daughters in May 1867 the week before his death, his last will and testament specified that "Margaret G. who is my youngest child shall have the home place known as Buchanan Bottoms, together with any and all lands adjoining belonging to me."8 Margaret Kent married Major John T. Cowan of Clarksburg, now West Virginia, in 1868 and they lived at Kentland Farm and Toms Creek for the remainder of their lives.

John Cowan, who had served as an officer in the Twenty-fifth Virginia Infantry during the Civil War, managed Kentland Farm as a profitable agricultural and milling enterprise until around World War I. In 1880 Cowan's farm, valued at $58,000, produced 8,000 bushels of corn, 2,700 bushels of grain, and 4,500 pounds of tobacco on 1,650 acres of tilled land at the cost of $1,000 paid in wage labor. Cowan also raised and traded Shorthorn cattle throughout his tenure at Kentland Farm.

Cowans Mill on Toms Creek was listed as a post office during the 1880s and 1890s, years in which the mills there produced corn meal, flour, and sawn lumber. Cowan's flour sold for $4 a barrel in 1899, a commodity which he exchanged with a merchant in Blacksburg partial payment for the laborers who worked his land, a few of whom were descendants of slaves owned by James Kent.9

John Cowan had attained sufficient status through his successful administration of his mills and farm lands so that he was chosen as a member of the original Board of Trustees of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, eventually to become Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He also served on the Sixth District of the Virginia State Board of Agriculture and Immigration, and he represented Montgomery County for one term as a Delegate to the Virginia General Assembly in 1899-1900.

Margaret and John Cowan's son James Randal Kent Cowan married Maude Battle and moved from Radford to the mill house at Cowans Mills sometime after 1900. James and Maude Cowan's daughter Margaret remembers that the Cowans hired someone to operate their ferry across the New River at the mouth of Toms Creek; the ferry at Harmons Ford was operated from the other side of the river.10 In 1907 the Virginian Railroad completed a line along the north and east bank of the New River, and Whitethorne, the rail stop at Toms Creek, replaced Cowans Mills as the placename associated with Kentland. Shortly before World War I James Cowan and his immediate family traded dwellings with his parents, and James and Maude Cowan lived at Kentland Farm until 1936 when the Cowans lost the estate to cousin Francis Bell of Dublin.11 The Bells sold Kentland Farm in 1966.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University acquired the acreage and important cultural resources of Kentland Farm in 1988. The rich bottom lands formerly owned by the families of Harmon, Buchanan, Trigg, Cloyd, Kent, and Cowan are now used for research by the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL BACKGROUND

Kentland Farm historic and Archaeological District contains significant archaeological resources dating to both the prehistoric and historic periods. Of the thirteen sites discovered to date, five are particularly important for archaeological studies relating to the Late Woodland period (A.D. 800-1600), while the remaining eight have importance for archaeological studies relating to eighteenth-century exploration and settlement and nineteenth-century plantation life.

Of the five prehistoric sites identified at Kentland Farm, four (44MY6, 44MY24, 44MY25, and 44MY176) are part of a village complex. With the exception of some peripheral disturbance through road and railroad construction, a recent archaeological examination of these sites sponsored by Radford University indicates they very likely have good horizontal and vertical integrity. Unlike many sites in Southwest Virginia, site damage resulting from looting appears to be minimal. This complex of sites is archaeologically significant for regional studies on the origins of sedentism and large villages as well as community organization within such villages. Based on analogy with similar previously excavated sites in the region such as Trigg (44MY3) and Shannon (44MY8), the high likelihood of well preserved features such as trash pits and burial pits enhances the significance of the sites for regional archaeological studies on subsistence patterns, chronology, technology, mortuary practices, and demography. All of these, in turn, should aid archaeological studies in cultural ecology and cultural evolution as related to the analysis of changing environmental adaptations and the development of increasingly complex means of socio-cultural integration within the region during the Late Woodland period. Further enhancing the archaeological research potential and need for long-term protection and preservation of this complex of sites, many of the region's most important Late Woodland villages have been destroyed, such as both Trigg and Shannon, as a result of twentieth-century urban expansion and industrialization. The final prehistoric site, 44MY259, represents a small specialized seasonal exploitation camp unlike the above sites representative of sedentary settlements. Other related sites are very likely to be identified as more intensive archaeological investigations take place at Kentland Farm. Together, all of these sites, and the variability reflected within them, are significant for archaeological studies of regional Late Woodland settlement and land use patterns.

The historic archaeological sites Identified at Kentland Farm could provide significant data concerning the social character of nineteenth-century plantation society as well as spatial patterning of occupation and agricultural practices across the landscape. Archaeological research has documented a wide variety of well preserved nineteenth-century remains, and historical research indicates the high likelihood of additional eighteenth-century sites representative of early exploration and settlement in the region being present. Of particular importance for studies on nineteenth-century regional plantation lifeways, especially as reflected in social and economic status distinctions, are the Kentland domestic complex (44MY260), slave quarters (44MY432), Kent family cemetery (44MY261), and slave cemetery (44MY431). 44MY433, a nineteenth-century brick kiln, is significant for the investigation of industrial activities characteristic of large plantation complexes. Harmon's Ford (44MY262) and Toms Creek Ford and roadtrace are significant for investigations of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century transportation networks within the region. Finally, the Ford Meadow drainage ditch (44MY435), being in a good state of preservation, aids in defining agricultural land use patterns at Kentland Farm. Together, the variety of different types of historic sites that have remained preserved at Kentland Farm are representative of the range expected for a nineteenth-century plantation, further enhancing its archaeological significance.

ENDNOTES

1. Local historian Jimmie L. Price is probably correct when he reasons that Adam Harmon lived near his ford rather than a mile away at the mouth of Toms Creek.

2. Adam Harmon is reported to be the person who found Mary Draper Ingles after her escape from Indian captivity in 1755.

3. Montgomery County Land Books prior to 1816 neither list buildings nor provide land descriptions, so they do not provide evidence which can be used to locate the place of the Trigg dwelling.

4. Joseph Cloyd, the father of Gordon Cloyd, was Mary Cloyd McGavock's brother. The Cloyds, Kents, and McGavocks were also related by marriage to James McDowell, the husband of Sarah Preston. Sarah's father William Preston had headed Revolutionary War efforts in the New River Valley where he also established large landholdings and built Smithfield. These intermarriages of influential and landed families in southwestern Virginia between 1760 and 1818 are similar to the ties of kinship and status established in Tidewater Virginia a century earlier.

5. The value of Gordon Cloyd's buildings at Springfield was listed at $2,500 from 1823 through 1827. Of course earlier buildings at Kentland may have been retained after the new residence was constructed circa 1834. Perhaps one of these structures was the two story brick kitchen which survived as one of the domestic outbuildings at Kentland until about 1970.

6. Mary Kent had inherited 20 of her father's slaves when Gordon Cloyd died in 1833.

7. Jimmie Price located this information and reported it on a video tape of Kentland which he generously provided to the authors of this nomination.

8. Buchanans Bottom was the most valuable portion of James Kent's estate and two of Margaret Kent's brothers-in-law, Francis Bell and James Otey, and one of her widowed sisters, Mrs. Henry Bentley, unsuccessfully contested the Kent inheritance in the Montgomery County courts for 15 years. The James R. Kent Papers in the Special Collections at VPI&SU contain some of the depositions pertaining to this complex litigation. For a cogent summary of the dispute, see John Nicolay, "Foundation Notes," Montgomery News Messenger, Feb 6, 1983; May 15, 1983, and May 22, 1983.

9. John Nicolay's Papers in the Special Collections at VPI&SU contain fascinating interviews with residents of Wake Forest, a black community located off Route 652 to the north of Kentland Farm. Margaret Gordon Cowan had provided land for the church at Wake Forest in the 1920s, but Nicolay and Clyde Kessler, who conducted the oral history interviews in the early 1980s, found no informants who discussed ante or postbellum life at Kentland.

10. Interview with Margaret Cowan and Josephine Scrivenor, Roanoke, Virginia, Aug 9, 1990.

11. Josephine Scrivenor, also a daughter of James and Maude Cowan, explained that her father had mortgaged Kentland to cover cattle trading losses in the 1920s and could not meet payments during the Depression. Mrs. Scrivenor said that she learned from this loss by noting that her parents never expressed any bitterness about their misfortune. James Cowan went on to serve many years as Montgomery County treasurer, an office which his daughter Margaret Cowan later held for 19 years. Ibid.



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