House built by slave barely 20 years after slavery will be restored and turned into a museum

“The Hutchinson House was built barely 20 years out of slavery,” said Greg Estevez, the great-great-grandson of a former slave who built a 136-year-old house undergoing restoration. .

In 1885 Henry Hutchinson, born into slavery in 1860, built the two-story Victorian-style home on 10-acre land on Edisto Island, South Carolina, about 42 miles southwest of Charleston.

Edisto Island was known for its abundance of sea island cotton and was home to 10,000 enslaved African Americans between 1808 and 1860, according to the Smithsonian.

Estevez says his great-great-grandfather built the house as a wedding gift to his wife at a time when newly liberated blacks were trying to gain a foothold in the years after their emancipation from slavery. Hutchinson was among several African Americans on the 67 square mile Edisto Island to acquire land.

“For the first time, African Americans have been able to be independent and they can cultivate their own land and do things that affect their own livelihoods,” Estevez said of the newly released African Americans.

Estevez thanks his late grandmother, Myrtle Hutchinson Esteves, for keeping the house in family hands for so long. “His vision was to make the Hutchinson House an educational museum or some kind of place where people can come to learn about the history of African Americans and their various struggles on Edisto Island,” he said. about her grandmother’s lasting wish for the house. .

At the end of the 20e century the house had fallen into disrepair, and in the 1980s it was abandoned. Myrtle Hutchinson Esteves owned the house until her death in 2014 at the age of 97. The house was then passed on to Greg Estevez’s sister, but she died in 2016.

“He was in danger of being lost outside of the family,” said John Girault, executive director of the Edisto Island Open Land Trust, the organization that bought the house and the land on which it stands for $ 100,000. .

The Hutchinson family were initially concerned that the Publisher Island Open Land Trust would become the owner, but their concerns were allayed when they learned that the organization also shared Myrtle Hutchinson Esteves’ wish to restore the house.

In 2017, the Edisto Island Open Land Trust began its restoration efforts by first building a canopy to protect the exterior from decay and then working inside the house. The wood was rotting in places, but most of the interior remained largely intact.

Girault says half a million dollars has been spent so far during the restoration efforts, and he expects another $ 500,000 will be needed to complete the restoration of the house. The Land Trust raised funds through donations and grants, including from the National Park Service and the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Estevez and Girault both hope that visitors to the house hope that the power of land ownership and generational wealth among African Americans and the lasting impact it has had in the years following the era of slavery until modern times.

“It should be a site that tells a tough story and gets a little more aggressive in trying to make some of the changes that are needed in this country right now,” Girault said.

Unless there is a delay, the house should be fully restored and the museum open to the public in spring 2022.

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