Jack Primus resident working to put his community in National Register of Historic Places
As lifelong Cainhoy resident Fred Lincoln drives down an unpaved thoroughfare in the community that raised him, he can’t help but speak about it with pride. The remnants of the Cainhoy Plantation are covertly placed in the woods. An unassuming 20th century schoolhouse replica on the side of the road doubles as a culture center. Two-story dwellings are within a hundred feet of mobile homes.
“We’re the only community where this is acceptable and we welcome it,” Lincoln noted. “You can build your mansion, and there is no problem with someone building what they can build. As long as they can maintain the yard, that’s all you care about.”
The disparate sections of this tight-knit and sewn together community are ingrained in its personal story, and Lincoln wants to make that account a permanent part of history by registering 300 acres of the Jack Primus area into the National Register of Historic Places.
The NRHP is “the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture,” according to their website. “National Register properties have significance to the history of their community, state, or the nation.”
The areas of the Jack Primus community that Lincoln believes qualify for the National Register are the Keith School Museum, Cainhoy Plantation, and the Jack Primus community as a whole.
The Keith School Museum is an important site to longtime residents of the Cainhoy area.
“This is the school that I used to walk to,” said Lincoln.
The foundation for the former school sits in front of a replica of the building that is now used as a cultural center. The old schoolhouse was a place of education for many young African-Americans before the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case.
“We just started to reconstruct this school as a symbol for our young kids to see how far some people went to establish education and the importance of education,” Lincoln stated.
The Cainhoy Plantation and its adjacent Venning Cemetery are also a piece of the area that deserves protection, Lincoln claims.
“This is 9,000 acres of property,” he said. “This is where my ancestors—this is the plantation they came from.”
The property used to be farmland, but is now largely a forest. It was purchased by the late Harry Frank Guggenheim in the 1930s. The roads that lead to it are unpaved and the main house that stands is not the original plantation master’s house, but it has a feeling of history around it.
Lincoln believes the Jack Primus community is worthy of a spot on the National Register.
“In our case, our history, our community, these are the first properties that slaves ever owned,” he said. “That’s monumental for someone who was property to now own property. And now you’re going to come back generations and take their property away from them? They wouldn’t be a priority over other communities? They should be the priority over a new community, but it don’t happen that way.”
The extra attention that would likely come from recognition on the National Register would be welcome, noted Lincoln.
“We welcome tourism,” he said. “It’s our history, but the black community doesn’t generate any economics from it, so if we have it in this area, we want to be sure that we generate some type of economic advantage from it.”
Lincoln also hopes that, in addition to the landmarks, the Jack Primus community will be preserved from negative side-effects of expansion.
“To be placed on the National Registry, it’s basically to protect, not the building, but the community,” said Lincoln. “A lot of times they want to bring these roads through and they usually pick our community because it’s the least expensive and it’s the voiceless people.”
The protection that Lincoln references comes from the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Per the U.S. General Services Administration: “Section 106 of the NHPA requires that each federal agency identify and assess the effects its actions may have on historic buildings. Under Section 106, each federal agency must consider public views and concerns about historic preservation issues when making final project decisions.”
As he explained, his community is expendable to any government organization trying to expand in its direction.
“If you’re not recognized as anything, it’s difficult to fight government entity,” Lincoln stated. “You have to insure that what they’re taking away from yours is of some value, and nobody ever valued a black community.”
The perseverance of Lincoln’s family and the African-American community in Cainhoy is integral to his case.
“The mere fact that we came off of a plantation, and bought property outside of the plantation, as (among) the first property of enslaved people in the United States, that should give you a classification,” he said.