With pen in hand, Eloise Miller of Rock Hill signed documents Monday afternoon at the Nation Ford Land Trust office on Tom Hall Street placing 53 of the remaining 100 acres of her family farm in a conservation easement to be held by the land trust.
Miller, 95, retains ownership of the land, and the Nation Ford Land Trust will manage the easement, protecting it against development.
In the 1870s and 1880s, Eloise’s grandfather, emancipated slave Ned Miller, began acquiring approximately 200 acres near what is now India Hook Road. The family farm was later split between his two sons: William Miller and John Miller, Eloise’s father.
“Miss Miller’s relatives have sold the majority of the property they inherited for the India Hook Elementary School and a housing development,” said Janet Steele, director of conservation and development for the Nation Ford Land Trust.
Raiford Durham, Miller’s niece, said her aunt wanted to honor her father’s and grandfather’s wishes to preserve the remaining 53 acres.
“The idea is for it to stay exactly as it is now,” Durham said at Monday’s signing. “It will be Miller property in perpetuity.”
The Nation Ford Land Trust applied to the South Carolina Conservation Bank, which is funded by the state Legislature, to help fund approximately 30 percent of the easement value. The York County Forever Commission provided legal and appraisal fees.
Murray B. White Jr., previous chairman of the Nation Ford Land Trust, said this easement has been a work in progress since the early 1990s.
“We’ve found over the years that the real important conservation easements sometimes take a long time to happen. The real significance of it, though, is the fact that this was property that was purchased by a freed slave obviously at the end of the Civil War,” White said. “If you know your history, there was a tremendous amount of animosity that the whites had for the blacks and the freed slaves at that time. It has taken us several generations to get to where we are now.
“It took a lot of courage for that person to come into that transaction.” White said. “At the same time, it took the same amount of courage for Miss Eloise’s grandfather to make that purchase. Somewhere through good judgment and good management and smart thinking and saving, he was able to do this.
“I don’t know of any other piece of property in York County where this would happen.”
We just can’t overstate the significance of it.
White said the land is in one of the fastest growing areas in York County. “But we know now that 50 years from now, a hundred years, two hundred years, there’s still going to be 50 acres of farmland that a freed slave bought at the end of the Civil War. That’s amazing to me,” White said.
Greg Fitzgerald, York County Forever Commission chairman, said, “We’re very excited because of where it is, because of the proximity to all the development on the eastern half of the county, to have this preserved forever as green and essentially undeveloped from what it is now is tremendously exciting.
“It’s going to be a great asset to the folks of York County for generations to come.”