Building stabilization, archeological work and masonry restoration are complete at the historic Brentsville Jail.
Heating, cooling and electricity have been installed, the plasterwork is done, doors have been installed and the fireplaces repaired. All that’s left to do is pull together the exhibits to present a historic interpretation focused on what happened in the jail during the antebellum period.
Last year, the Prince William Historical Foundation received a $5,000 grant from the National Underground Railroad to Freedom (NTF) Program. The NTF helps historic sites interpret the history and heritage of African-Americans during the antebellum time frame.
The county’s Historic Preservation Division requested an additional grant of $10,000 from the NTF, which was matched by a donation of $10,000 from the foundation. In addition to the grant from the NTF, the foundation recently accepted $15,000 in donations to match a $15,000 grant from Bill Olson, who is a foundation member.
Putting all of the money together will allow the Prince William Historic Preservation Division to bring together exhibits that will include artifacts ranging from children’s toys to soldiers’ boots.
Brendon Hanafin, the county’s Historic Preservation Division Chief, said the exhibits will highlight the crime and punishment of slaves.
Visitors to the jail will see replications of jail cells, complete with rough-hewn timbers and iron, and will learn of the conditions under which imprisoned slaves lived.
“We’re going to make these rooms so they’re like what they looked like then,” Hanafin said. “They were dark. There was no ventilation. There was no heating, no cooling, little windows, and bars on the doors. So you’re going to walk into these things, and you’re going to be immersed in how horrible it would have been to have been in there.”
Hanafin said the plight of slaves is an “under-interpreted” history.
“The justice system was primarily slave-based,” he said. “The slaves were being captured and held in the jail. It was slaves being tried with no representation. Twelve out of the 13 folks hanged there were slaves. We really want to educate people about that period of our history.”
The project, which started in 2010, is scheduled for completion in 2015.