Adjacent to the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg is historic Smithfield Plantation. Built by William Preston in 1774 in what was the Virginia back country, Smithfield belied its location, displaying instead the sophistication more generally associated with the homes of the Tidewater. It is operated by Preservation Virginia.
From Charlotte, Blacksburg is approximately 145 miles, about a 3 1/4-hour drive, one way.
To see and do
Tours of the plantation house are led by costumed interpreters and last about one hour. Preston's home was built of framed timber with a wide central hallway flanked on one side by the drawing room and on the other by the master bedchamber. Sleeping chambers for the children are on the second floor; a dining room and office occupy a wing at the right rear. The basement includes the winter kitchen, exhibit room and gift shop.
While the drawing room is perhaps the most impressive room in the house - it's a copy of the Apollo Room in the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg - the entire house reflects wealth and refinement. Rooms are filled with expensive furnishings; several feature handsomely carved mantels and ornate window treatments. A Chinese Chippendale stairway and Georgian-style looking glass are highlights of the main entryway. In the dining room is a silver pitcher valued at $10,000. In the exhibit room is a snuffbox given to Col. Preston by George Washington in appreciation for saving his life during an attack by Indians.
The Preston family played a prominent role in Virginia history. Preston served as a member of the House of Burgesses, held various county offices, and helped open land in Kentucky for settlement.
James Patten Preston, one of William and Susanna Preston's 12 children and the first to be born at Smithfield, held a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, fought in the War of 1812, and served as Virginia's governor from 1816-1819. Grandson William Ballard Preston was secretary of the navy during President Zachary Taylor's administration. Preston and Olin Institute, a college in Blacksburg, was named for him; Virginia Tech evolved from that school.