In 2002, a team of archaeologists wrapped up a two-year project to test the Ridge Field section of the plantation about one mile from the house. The testing was a key step in the long-range plan to develop a learning and guest center at Poplar Forest in an area that would be compatible for building. The survey showed that while some of the sites in the Ridge Field can be used in the future to contribute to the story of Poplar Forest’s history, their location in the Ridge Field is compatible with locating the learning/guest center there.
Additionally, in the 1990s archaeologists had surveyed a section of land and determined that that piece of land was once the site of Jefferson’s prize barn. All the tobacco raised on the plantation and cured in drying barns scattered about Jefferson’s farm was collected at the prize barn. Once there, the tobacco was pressed into barrels with a lever known as a prize. The packed tobacco was then taken to nearby Lynchburg and shipped to Richmond down the James River in flat-bottomed boats called bateaux.
The prize barn site was one of the many sections of Jefferson’s plantation that through the years had been sold off. In 2001, the nonprofit Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest reached agreement with the then-owner of the parcel, the city of Lynchburg, to buy the land. Plans call for eventually rebuilding the prize barn and explaining more fully the story of why the plantation was a major source of income for Jefferson.
“In Bedford I have two plantations, adjoining, of 16 hands each, uplands of the first quality where I cultivate both tobacco and wheat.” Thomas Jefferson to William P. Newby, Jan. 20, 1815