Abandoned National Slavery Museum – Fredericksburg, Virginia - Atlas Obscura
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Fredericksburg, Virginia

Abandoned National Slavery Museum

An overgrown garden stands as a grim marker of an unrealized dream. 

Covered in thick snarls of thorns and vines, this overgrown garden still clings to the few relics of its former grand destiny. It’s a bleak place to encounter, a strangely fitting match to the grim history it was once meant to tell.

This unkempt patch of earth was supposed to be the United States National Slavery Museum, a monumental memorial to those who suffered during an ugly era in U.S. history. Instead, it’s an abandoned plot strangled by weeds and debt.

L. Douglas Wilder, Virginia’s former governor, unveiled his grand intentions to build the museum in 2001. An innovative building housing a full-scale slave ship replica, theater, and library was meant to dominate the landscape, which two million people were expected to visit each year. There were also plans for a small tobacco and cotton garden.

But the museum never came to fruition, just a garden created by Wilder in 2007. Though celebrities and civil rights group donated money and people gave their own collections and artifacts, the land remains vacant. Wilder blames the 2008 recession for its failure to launch. The former governor has since turned his attention toward smaller, less expensive plans.

A few weathered signs and a slave auction box imprinted with footprints stand at the site like forsaken markers of a dream never destined to come true. Now, instead of millions of annual visitors, only the occasional urban explorer stumbles upon the small overgrown garden. 

Know Before You Go

It's located at the end of Gordon W. Shelton Blvd, a short drive past the amphitheater. Explorers can park right off the road and take in this site, though beware of thorns!