Ashland Plantation home again for Ligon family
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
FARMVILLE, Va. (April 18, 2017) — Not often do families get the chance to get farmland back once it’s been sold.
But that was the case for Ashland Plantation, a tree farm in the southern hills of Virginia’s Cumberland County.
Establishment of the plantation goes back to Elisha Woodfin Sr., the son of a minister from Powhatan County, who acquired about 800 acres from the family of Beverley Randolph, who was the eighth Governor of Virginia. Randolph’s father got the land as part of a 3,800-acre land grant from the King of England.
Upon Elisha Woodfin’s death, the property was split between his children; daughter Sarah Ellen McGehee got roughly 290 acres and son Elisha Jr., received the about 500 acres. Most of Sarah’s share remained in the family when it passed to her only child, Sallie Pierce Ligon, then to the youngest of Sallie’s 13 children, Woodfin V. Ligon, who farmed the land in tobacco and row crops.
“He had to end up buying it from his sisters,” said his son, Woodfin V. Ligon Jr., who now owns the plantation and lives in the same house he grew up in. Sarah had the house built in 1858.
Ligon said he enjoyed living on the farm but recalled tough summers working in the family tobacco fields. Thinking back on the tedious work involved, he still shivers at the thought of it. Still, he said the farm life had a major impact to him pursing college degrees and a career as a chemist.
The other parcel stayed in the family until the 1950s when it was sold to the Union Bag-Camp Paper Corporation, which planted pine trees throughout the property.
Ligon said relatives who owned the property offered to sell it to his father but he had recently been diagnosed with heart disease and didn’t think he could take on the extra land.
The paper company planted the farm to trees, mostly loblolly pine, and managed the land until the late 1980s when the company decided the parcel was too far from any of it’s paper mills and it wouldn’t be efficient to keep. The corporation was later bought by International Paper.
Ligon was living with his family in upstate New York and deep into a career at General Electric when he heard the property was for sale.
Though far from the family farm, they maintained a connection to agriculture as Ann started a dried flower business on a half-acre lot across from their house and managed it for close to 12 years, Ligon said, shipping about 30,000 wired straw flowers a year.
“I was there to help and she liked doing the work with flowers,” Ligon said.
He said they initially tried to buy only half of it since that would gain them access to the Appomattox River but the paper company was intent on selling it all at once.
“We put it back together in 1988,” Ligon said. “We thought it was nice to put the place back together just from a standpoint of the family heritage. Everybody in the neighborhood I’m kin to,” Ligon said. “Many of the names have changed but the people are still the same.”
He and Ann moved to the plantation in 2007 and renovated the farmhouse where he grew up. Ann came up with the design to add a new section on the back of the house that would accommodate modern conveniences, while keeping the older part of the house in period condition.
“Basically, we put everything new into the new part and the old part still looks like it used to look,” Ligon said.
Remains of another house from the 1700s that his great great uncle Elisha Woodfin Jr. lived in still sit on the side of a hill on the plantation. Most of what’s left is one of the houses’s three chimney’s and some of the roof.
“For when it was built, it was actually a pretty large house,” Ligon said.
The family cemetery is also still intact on the property.
Ligon said while he’s grateful to have the property back in the family, managing the trees for timber sales has made it all possible.
“The pines have been very good to us,” he said. “It was the greatest investment we ever made. The money that we’ve gotten back has more than paid for the place, which shocked us.”
Ligon said they remain intent on managing the trees on the farm with cutting a section every five years and replanting loblolly pines.
“After that, it’s just a question of which area gets ready next,” he said. “We will cut it and plant it again.”