Local nuns fighting to keep historic property from being sold

POWHATAN COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — More than 2,200 acres of historic property run by nuns in Powhatan County is in danger of being sold.

The property has gone through transformations over decades. Parts of its past can still be seen.

9F6F5715582042868CEA5E87FD552170A slave burial ground from the time it was a plantation lies near the entrance. Years later, it was bought by a young wealthy woman from Philadelphia, named Katherine Drexel.

On a mission to help African Americans, she built two schools for black children, St. Francis School for girls and St. Emma School for boys. The schools supported kids and the community during segregation and the civil rights era.

“Helping us through that era, and it wasn’t an easy time,” said Florine Bell.

CE353577F24E481B9B8961FA222336BFBell started working at the school in 1957, crediting her time there for a successful career in government. But after segregation ended, enrollment fell and the schools closed.

It laid vacant for 40 years until 10 years ago, when sisters decided to come back and revitalize the property. During that time, they compiled a list of 1,200 donors, opened a preschool, and a museum to tell the property’s history.

“At one time, 127 slaves lived here and worked here,” said Geri Venable, who gave 8News a tour of the property.

That history is now in danger of being lost, as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, owners of the land, informed the nuns in Powhatan that the property was going to be sold to help out their religious order.

“We are all still reeling from the shock of it,” said Sister Maureen Carroll.

“We are all still reeling from the shock of it.” –Sister Maureen Carroll

Carroll who has headed up the restoration says they have big plans for this place and can’t imagine it being sold.

“It would break my heart, it is causing me to be extremely disheartened should this happen,” said Carroll.

“Just to even think that it wouldn’t be here would almost be the end of me, too,” said Bell.

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The nuns have decided to fight to keep this place and its history alive for generations to come.

“We come to something that brings in a future that we all have hoped for, that we all have prayed for,” said Carroll.

The Sisters of St. Francis/St. Emma will hold a rally on Saturday at the property located at 5004 Cartersville Road in Powhatan at 2pm. They are asking everyone to come out and help support their efforts to keep the property. They’re also asking supporters to sign this petition.

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