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Nearly 200-year-old, historic 'Turkey Run' home saved by preservationists

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Posted at 11:08 AM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-24 18:29:44-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- At this work site, being precise and prompt are critical labor skills.

Syd Jordan-Cooley and her crew are hauling away 200 years of history.

“It is a giant jigsaw puzzle,” said Jordan-Cooley. “A very heavy jigsaw puzzle, actually.”

The workers are taking apart the house known as Turkey Run -- a house built in 1836 when Andrew Jackson was in the White House.

“This is a lot of work. Every piece of molding is done by hand when a house is this old. Every single bit.”

Chesterfield County purchased the property in 2017. Old Hundred Elementary opened next door a couple years later. The aging house would be demolished.

Jane Ellen Holliday Wilson was crushed. The preservationist couldn’t bare to watch her childhood home razed.

“It was heartbreaking for me,” said Holliday Wilson. “It was just a magical, magical place for us.”

Turkey Run was also the long time home of legendary county teacher Virginia Justis.

“She loved this place so much. You’re standing in her bedroom,” said Holliday Wilson.

Historians, like Jim Daniels, said Turkey Run, built by enslaved labor, is one of only six brick, pre-Civil War houses still standing in the county.

“We’ve put together a really great team,” said Daniels. “It's a lot of significant history that a lot of places can’t claim.”

This spring, the county listened to the concerns and donated the home.

Preservation Virginia’s Will Glasco said Turkey Run will be rebuilt as a museum and event space at nearby Midlothian Mines Park.

“It is rare for Chesterfield County to have a house or building like this,” said Glasco. “We’re not against progress and growth. We know things must change, and new schools need to be built. But if there is a way to incorporate these historic resources into those plans it is a win-win.”

Deconstructing a nearly two-century-old house isn’t easy. Warren Davies with Virginia Masonry Restoration said each brick and floorboard are being cataloged.

“We are already rebuilding this in our heads as we are taking it down,” said Davies. “It may be that we never have another chance in our lifetime to build a place like this from scratch.”

For carpenter Syd Jordan-Cooley, this project is a 185-year-old history lesson.

“It would be a travesty if this went into a landfill,” said Jordan-Cooley. “The folks who did this, we don’t know who they were. They’re faceless. But what we do have is the piece of history they left behind.”

Jane Ellen Holliday Wilson can’t contain her excitement knowing the home she spent part of her childhood in will be spared a date with the wrecking ball.

“Oh, I feel four years old again! I am always so happy to be in here,” she said. “What this is going to do is tell a story that has never been told. This is a wonderful place. You come here once and you love it. Yes! It’s saved. It’s wonderful.”

Demolition of Turkey Run or the Justis House must be wrapped up by July 31.

Already, there is a fund-raising campaign to rebuild the historic structure at Midlothian Mines.

To Learn More about the saving of Turkey Run and make a donation, tap here.

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Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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