First Surveyor of Washington County Recognized
Monday, April 16, 2018
Eleven new historical markers recently approved for placement along Virginia roads will include a sign in Bristol, Virginia, to commemorate the Walnut Grove Plantation and its founder, Col. Robert Preston.
Preston built the house that bears his name and is known as the Robert Preston House, and he accumulated the acreage for the plantation, which at one point boasted as many as 2,000 acres. The Robert Preston House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Isabelle Ladd and Jan Rainero, co-chairs of the Robert Preston House Committee of the Bristol Historical Association, worked to make the new historic marker a reality, noted that the BHA owns the house and about 3.5 acres of the surrounding land. They added that the majority of the original plantation has been commercially developed, while the undeveloped surrounding acreage (about 75 acres) is owned by the Mack B. Trammell Foundation.
Ladd and Rainero explained that Preston worked as the first surveyor of Washington County, receiving the commission in 1779 from Thomas Jefferson, who at that time was Virginia’s governor.
Around 1800, Preston constructed his Walnut Grove residence, which is among the oldest houses in Washington County. The house is significant for several reasons. Ladd and Rainero noted that the building was a frame structure as opposed to being constructed with logs, and that such a building would have been rare in Virginia’s “frontier” era. It’s known today as the oldest frame house in Washington County, Virginia. The house also originally featured a “kicked profile” roof line, which was extremely unusual.
In addition to Jefferson, Preston had contact with another important figure in American history. William Clark of the famed Lewis and Clark exploratory expedition stopped on at least one occasion at Walnut Grove on one of his many trips to Washington, D.C., to submit expenses. Clark and Preston’s son, John, were contemporaries and friends. The one documented visit by Clark to Walnut Grove can be confirmed, as it was reported in Clark’s journal.
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