The Booker T. Washington National Monument, located in Virginia, is a nod to one of the most influential icons of America born in slavery – Booker T. Washington. The monument honors the birthplace of this notable African American educator, influential statesman, and orator during the nineteenth and twentieth century.
For those who are unaware of Washington, he was born a slave in 1856, in a 207-acre farm of James Burroughs. After the Civil War, he was the first principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School. His past influenced his philosophies as an educator, orator, and advisor. Today, the park includes most of the centuries-old tobacco plantation along with the accurately recreated tobacco farm and farm buildings. The presence of the farm life brings back memories of Civil War Virginia and how life was back then for the slaves and a glimpse of what Washington’s childhood was like.
Washington’s fate was decided when James and Elizabeth Burroughs moved to Franklin County Virginia in 1850 and brought slaves with them to work on the farm, including Jane. Jane gave birth to three of her children while living on the plantation and Washington was one of them.
Booker T. Washington National Monument honors the achievements and accomplishments of this great visionary and a place where historians and visitors alike can contemplate a time in American history that seems simply unpalatable today.
The Booker T. Washington Monument is located in Franklin County, 16 miles northeast from Rocky Mount. It can be reached through VA 40 E and VA 122 N.
From Roanoke, it is 25 miles southeast and can be reached through US 220 S, VA 40 E and VA 122 N.
If you are coming from Lynchburg, drive 50 miles southwest via US 460 W and VA 122 S to reach your destination.
Booker T. Washington National Monument does not offer any camping facilities of its own. However, 25 minutes and 16.3 miles away from the monument is Smith Mountain Lake State Park. The park provides 14 RV campsites. All sites are standard electric and accommodate 6 people at a time. The maximum RV length allowed here is 70 feet and most campsites are back-in while some are also pull-through. Reservations can be made in advance online.
Booker T. Washington National Monument does have a nice picnic area in a wooded setting. The area includes amenities such as picnic tables, water fountains, charcoal grills, and trash cans. Restrooms are located at the visitor center.
The visitor center at Booker T. Washington National Monument sets the right tone for the rest of the trip by informing and educating the vacationers beforehand and building up their fascination.
There are exhibits and audio-visual presentations that will take you back in time and just for a fraction of a moment, give you a glimpse into what life was like for the enslaved people in this region. There’s also an area where you can purchase items related to African American history.
The plantation trail at the Booker T. Washington National Monument is a quarter-mile loop that runs through the historic area. When on this trail, the visitors find themselves walking past the reconstructed farm buildings depicting 19th-century architecture.
These buildings have been preserved and renovated in a manner that has left them quite similar to the ones that used to exist in Burroughs Plantation originally. Interestingly, these buildings aren’t just there to take you back in time, but also provide some fun and entertainment with plenty of activities for both adults and children to enjoy.
Ranger-guided tours for at least a group of 10 are offered at the monument. Keep in mind that reservations are required to participate in these tours. These walking tours normally last somewhere between half an hour to an hour and there is a 10-minute introductory video in the auditorium.
There’s also a junior ranger program offered at the park for the kids during the summer. It includes numerous interesting things for the kids, making sure they have a fun trip as well as an educational one. The junior rangers get to explore the birthplace of Washington, hike the Jack-o-lantern Branch heritage Trail, visit the farm area, learn about tobacco, and learn all about the Tuskegee Institute, and the Civil War.
After seeing the monuments and the buildings, you can also walk the path where young Washington and the rest of the slaves used to work every day. The Jack-o-Lantern Branch Heritage trail is 1.5 miles long and takes visitors on a meandering walk across fields and forests.
You can get the trail guide from the visitor center and follow the trail while taking in the scenery. The nature trail follows the Gills Creek, into the wooded area, and allows you to enjoy the natural serenity around you.
A historic plantation without farm animals wouldn't be very authentic, now would it?
After you have visited the buildings and learned about 18th-19th century American history, make sure you head towards the farm area and say hello to the pigs, sheep, chickens, and horses. You'll also get to learn about the historic breed of animals that were farmed here during Washington’s time.
The garden area at the monument is just as fascinating a place to visit. You can learn gardening techniques applied by the slaves and owners of the farm that helped manage these huge plantations.
If you are a reader through and through then you’d love the bookstore at the visitor center. The store stocks titles for both adults and young readers on Booker T. Washington and makes sure he remains alive in the pages of history.
There are books on the traditions of the 19th century, African American History and many other interesting topics. This bookstore belongs to a non-profit association that backs up the interpretive, publication, and research activities at the monument.