Budding genealogists often hear this advice: When you unearth the past, be prepared for surprises. A researcher who spent weeks poring over documents in courthouses and repositories has turned up new facts about the original owners of the Reynolds Homestead.

In 1810, Abram Reynolds bought his first 180 acres in Patrick County, and in 1825 he bought 595 more acres at the base of No Business Mountain, where Virginia Tech now owns almost 800 acres. Abram Reynolds was thought to have lived at the site of Rock Spring Plantation, the boyhood home of R.J. Reynolds of tobacco fame. Virginia Tech maintains the historic home and offers public tours. Abram was R.J.’s grandfather. But it turns out that Abram himself actually lived several miles away.

In a second development exciting to cultural anthropologists who sift through papers and dig up deeds, the existence of the Norfolk-Bristol turnpike has been brought into question.

In the 1800s, the word “turnpike” referred to a road that ran through the lands of private corporations, which exacted tolls from travelers. It’s more likely that a Stuart-to-Lynchburg road allowed passage of horses and wagons through the plantation, the home of Hardin and Nancy Cox Reynolds — parents of R.J. and 15 other children.

“These two discoveries give us a picture slightly different from what had been passed down through oral histories and previously written accounts,” says Julie Walters Steele, director of the Reynolds Homestead.

A Reynolds descendent, Nancy Susan Reynolds, deeded the property to Virginia Tech in 1969. More than 15,000 people visit the Reynolds Homestead each year.

The person behind the discoveries? Matthew Traucht, a research fellow who spent much of last summer doing research under­written by the Garden Club of Virginia. His academic background is anthropology, archeology, and landscape architecture. Ironically, he found no evidence that ornamental gardens ever existed on the property.

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