Public Art Location: Solitude & The Fraction Family House
About Solitude & The Fraction Family House
Solitude dates back more than 200 years and is the oldest structure on campus. Solitude can be understood as a landscape of pain and imposition as well as wealth and privilege. It is part of the grounds of a former plantation owned by the Preston family. The house was expanded in 1851 by Col. Robert Taylor Preston, who received the estate from his father, Virginia Governor James Patton Preston. About 250 acres, the house, and several farm buildings on the estate were purchased by the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Virginia Tech) Board of Visitors in 1872 for $21,250. The Preston family’s holdings supplied both the wealth and the site on which the new college depended.
In April of 2019, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors voted to memorialize the Fraction Family House at Solitude, a tiny three-room building on the site, the original portion of which was used, perhaps as a dwelling, by enslaved members of the Fraction family and others. The approved resolution was “in acknowledgement of the contributions of the Fraction Family in the creation and emergence of Virginia Tech as a major land-grant university, and in accordance with the university’s efforts to transform an historic location.”
In close proximity to the Fraction House, along the edge of the Duck Pond, there were a number of slave cabins that no longer exist.
Long before newcomers from Europe or Africa came to the area in the eighteenth century, it was home to various Native peoples. The Tutelo/Monacan people were early stewards of the land on which the Virginia Tech community works and lives, and they have a continuing connection to the natural resources that support the university's endeavors.
The Native dimension of Virginia Tech’s history transcends the area in which the university is situated. The entire land-grant constellation — dozens of institutions of higher education, at least one in every state — originated with the dispossession of Native peoples from a vast region extending from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast. Funds from those lands drove the emergence of all land-grant schools, so Virginia Tech is a case study as well as a stand-alone phenomenon. Grants to Virginia came from Montana, Colorado, Kansas, and elsewhere, most of all from California.
With regard to African Americans, Solitude is the focus, both as a specific local space and as representative of broader issues. These include the expanding settler society and the expropriation of both land and labor, in the interest of promoting economic development and improving white Americans’ social mobility and well-being.
Further complicating the history of this site is the story of Mary Draper Ingles, a colonial settler who was abducted in 1755 from Drapers Meadows, understood to be near the Duck Pond and Solitude sites. An existing memorial marker on the site references the attack on the settlement as the “Draper’s Meadows Massacre.”
This site reflects the complicated history of the university and its relationship to settler colonialism and racial capitalism. Solitude is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.
Art Location at Solitude
Descendants Visit Fraction Family House
Video filmed in 2019 as part of the dedication of the Fraction Family House.