Dozens attended the 50-plus years celebration of the Reynolds Homestead on June 19.
The celebration, which was originally scheduled for 2020, was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Susan Short, Associate Vice-President for Engagement Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT), said when she thinks of exemplary engagement, the Homestead is always the model that always comes to mind.
“That’s universally partners partnering with committed community partners because partnerships are at the core of authentic and mutual engagement,” she said.
While she was supposed to tell the history of the Homestead and Nancy Susan Reynolds’ role in its creation, Short said three guests who intimately knew the history would do it for her.
Sally Ann Rodgers, the daughter of Nannie Ruth Terry, recalled her mother’s letter campaign which eventually led to the creation of the Reynolds Homestead.
Rodgers said Terry started seriously writing after discovering a pony in the parlor of the Homestead when it was being rented out as lodgings.
“She happened to find out that Mrs. Nancy Susan Reynolds was going to be at Wake Forest University. She wrote and said, ‘did you know that your father lived about 50 miles from here,’” she said.
While Reynolds was not able to make the trip to Critz then, she eventually visited. During this time, Rodgers said Reynolds and her mother developed a friendship that was reflected in the numerous letters they exchanged.
Dr. Ray Smoot, the former chief executive officer of the Virginia Tech Foundation, said he became involved in the mid-1970s. Early on, Smoot began working with Reynolds on real estate matters and the funding of the endowments for the scholarship program and the cultural and forestry programs.
“She called me one day and said, ‘I think I’m ready to make the give to fund the endowment,’ and it involved real estate,’” he said.
Smoot said Reynolds lived at Quarry Farm in Greenwich, Connecticut, and planned to sell part of the farm to fund the endowment to someone with an easily recognizable name. “I said, that’s fine, who is that, and she said, it’s Diana Ross. I’m of the supreme vintage and I knew exactly who Diana Ross was,” he said.
Smoot said there’s an element of disappointment for him in the story as he thought he would get the chance to meet Ross when closing on the property deal. “I never got to make that acquaintance, which I regret,” he said.
Richard “Major” S. Reynolds III, President of the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation, said two individuals stand out in his mind from the dedication ceremony. One was Nancy Susan Reynolds, and the other was his brother, Julian “Sergeant” Reynolds, who was the principal speaker at the event.
“When we were trying to get something together for this, my lovely and intelligent wife found online from the Library of Virginia the editions of a newspaper that used to be published in Stuart and stopped publishing in 1995,” he said of the Bull Mountain Bugle.
Richard Reynolds said he and his wife found an article about the dedication. “On the front page, there was a picture of my brother addressing the crowd, and inside there was a report on the event. It says, ‘Lt. Governor J. “Sergeant” Reynolds had expressed the appreciation of the people of Virginia and of their own family to Nancy Susan Reynolds for taking the time to restore the old Reynolds Homestead,’” he said.
Richard Reynolds said both are buried onsite at the Homestead. “It’s a real turn of fate that both of those individuals that were so instrumental in the dedication of this place are now buried in the family graveyard,” he said.
Martinsville attorney Kimble Reynolds, also spoke at the event. He said he recently visited the cemetery where the enslaved African Americans are buried. “As I looked across what was the Rock Spring Plantation and what is now the Reynolds Homestead, I couldn’t help but get a sense of what took place during the times in which they gathered around that space. There certainly was a feeling of loss, pain, there was a feeling of love, and a sense of community, but also questions as to what the future would hold,” he said.
Kimble Reynolds said that as people gathered together to not only celebrate the Homestead, but also Father’s Day and Juneteenth, he couldn’t help but think about April 6, 1865, and about the Rock Spring Plantation raid.
“It was three days later, on April 9, 1865, that Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops in Appomattox, Virginia to the Union, effectively ending the American Civil War,” he said.
Juneteenth marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure the freedom of all enslaved people.
“The troops’ arrival came a full two-and-a-half-years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and Juneteenth honors the end of slavery in the United States,” he said.
The celebration also marked the groundbreaking for a new kitchen for the Homestead. Director Julie Walters Steele said Richard S. Reynolds and the Virginia S. Reynolds each gave $400,000 for a total of $800,000 for the construction of the kitchen.
The kitchen will have eight teaching stations, where classes can be taught by local chefs, extension agents, and Patrick & Henry Community College (P&HCC) faculty.
Walters Steele said the kitchen will also include a demonstration station and also will serve as an incubator for those interested in starting a food-based business.
“They will have the opportunity to use this kitchen as they proto-type their product before they go to the expense of creating their own kitchen,” she said.