After the Civil War and Emancipation, most of the families that were formerly enslaved at Montpelier remained in the area, often working for wages on the plantations where they were once enslaved. Born enslaved at Montpelier, George Gilmore and his wife Polly received news of their freedom from Union soldiers occupying the area at the end of the War. The Gilmores cleared land at Montpelier and built a tiny cabin from materials salvaged from an abandoned Confederate encampment. The Gilmores worked hard at their own farm and as day laborers on nearby farms, and Polly earned money as a seamstress.

By 1867, the Freedmens' Bureau had listed George Gilmore as an intelligent man and a community leader who could read and write. By 1873, the Gilmores saved enough money to build the cabin that stands today and take a mortgage from the Madisons for their 16-acre farm. The first floor of the cabin served as the kitchen and dining area as well as the Gilmore's sleeping area. The upstairs loft provided rooms for their children. By 1901, the Gilmores had paid off their mortgage and fulfilled their dream of becoming independent landowners.

By 1984, the Gilmore descendants had moved away to live and work in nearby towns, and the cabin was left unoccupied and gradually deteriorated. The National Trust for Historic Preservation along with the staff at Montpelier and the Gilmore family conducted archaeological studies of the Gilmore farm and gathered oral histories from family members. After uncovering the history of this freedmen's farm, restoration began on this important historic site that traces the lives of the Gilmore family from servitude to freedom and self-sufficiency. Working closely with the Gilmore family, Montpelier restoration crews and archaeologists carefully researched and restored the cabin as the first preserved and interpreted freedmen's home in the United States.

The Gilmore Cabin is open to visitors seasonally on weekends and is located on Rt. 20 across from the entrance to James Madison's Montpelier. The site features a one-mile loop trail that passes by the Gilmores' gravesites and a recreated Confederate encampment.

Pictured at the top: The restored ca. 1873 Gilmore Cabin.

gilmore cabin

The Gilmore Farm Trail includes a reconstructed Confederate encampment located in the same area as a Confederate encampment during the winter of 1863-1864.