Forest, VA: On Friday, August 5, Lynchburg City and Bedford County officials joined members of the Poplar Forest Board of Directors, the Poplar Forest African American Advisory Group, donors and invited guests at Poplar Forest for a special dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the new entrance and roadway to Thomas Jefferson’s villa retreat.
Speakers at the event included Dr. Kathryn M. Pumphrey, chair of the Board of Directors; Mayor MaryJane Tousignant-Dolan of Lynchburg; and Leslie King, a member of the Poplar Forest African American Advisory Group. Thomas Jefferson himself, as portrayed by actor Bill Barker, appearing compliments of Monticello, welcomed his guests to the dedication.
The completion of the Poplar Forest Parkway, a 2.2-mile, two-way road and trail system, marks a significant milestone for the historic property. Visitors no longer have to navigate circuitous routes to enter and exit Poplar Forest. Instead, their Poplar Forest experience will begin from the moment they enter through the gate at Enterprise Drive. The roadway is designed to showcase the historic landscape, leading visitors through the plantation grounds with views of the agricultural and natural landscape that would have been familiar to Jefferson.
“With the purchase of the land over two decades ago, through the leadership of several boards of directors and the extraordinary generosity of many of you, this was an idea that has stood the test of time,” said Alyson M. Ramsey, president and CEO of Poplar Forest.
“This property has been an important part of our community’s history for over 200 years, and we are so excited to open this new entrance connecting the city of Lynchburg to Poplar Forest,” said Mayor Tousignant-Dolan. “It is an important tourism anchor for the city and our region, drawing thousands of visitors to the area. This new gateway will enhance the quality of life in Lynchburg, as visitors and residents enjoy its park-like atmosphere and run, walk or bike through the property.”
The trail system, anchored by a 1.64-mile-long main trail that connects to a spur trail, traverses the historic landscape and is open to the public to explore on foot or by bike.
New exhibits along the Parkway and trails will become a major element of the expanded visitor experience. “With opportunity comes responsibility. We as a corporation must be ready to dig deeper into an understanding of the enslaved people who built and maintained this plantation. We must be ready to tell their stories, to name their names and convey their reality in the 21st century,” commented Ramsey.
“A new series of wayside exhibits and trailhead markers researched by Poplar Forest staff, with artwork created by the award-winning fine artist, author and illustrator E.B. Lewis, will be installed later this year, exploring topics not adequately addressed through our current exhibit offerings,” said King. “Through them, we’ll introduce Thomas Jefferson, the plantation and its people and identify by name the enslaved African Americans who lived and labored at Poplar Forest. We’ll also explore topics like the cycle of tobacco cultivation and production and its impact on the landscape.”
Future wayside exhibits will also allow visitors to explore both newly discovered and well-documented archaeological sites—from Native American encampments to sites such as the Prize Barn, where tobacco was packed for shipment to Richmond.
“The opening of the Parkway at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest marks a significant milestone for the historic property. Our ‘new path to Jefferson’ embodies our goal to shape the long-term future of Poplar Forest,” said Pumphrey. “This project would not have been possible without the generous support we have received from hundreds of donors over the years. We would especially like to thank our Leadership Donors—Melanie and Lynch Christian, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph R. Gladden Jr., Dr. and Mrs. T. Joseph Pond Jr., Virginia’s Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, the late Dr. Anne R. Worrell, the Cabell Foundation, the Genan Foundation, the Watson-Brown Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Cranston Williams Jr.—and our Board of Directors and staff for their dedication, perseverance and vision to ensure that the Parkway project be successfully completed.”
The Poplar Forest Parkway and trail system, designed by Rieley & Associates Landscape Architects and constructed by Branch Civil, Inc., was nearly two decades in the making. Since 2014, the nonprofit raised more than $5.5 million and successfully completed the project debt free.
For more information about Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, please call the Museum Shop at 434.534.8120 or visit poplarforest.org.