Black History Month

Black History Month

The African American Heritage Trail

2/21/2024 | Marina Montez-Ellis, Garden Program Specialist

The Champaign County African American Heritage Trail ( highlights the lives and contributions of African Americans in our community. We look to Broadlands and the prominent Smith and Gaines family.

George W. Smith (pictured with his wife and family) was born enslaved, near Selmar, McNairy County, Tennessee, on December 3, 1836. At the age of nine years, together with his six brothers and sisters, he was sold from his mother's side. As chattel, he brought the sum of $501.50.

During the Civil War, Mr. Smith escaped slavery and served as a scout in the Union army under General McClernand and as a guide for General Logan in Tennessee and Mississippi. With his health failing, he came to Springfield, where he met and married Mrs. Mary E. Oglesby Gaines. They had five sons and two daughters.

In the spring of 1876, Mr. Smith moved to a tract of land in Broadlands. Paying for the first 80 acres was the most difficult task of his career, but he continued to purchase land until he had acquired 440 acres. He was among the very first to adopt tile drainage; he was very successful in growing corn and in raising hogs; and his horses were known for their excellent quality.

George Smith left an estate of $116,000 (around 7 million in today's dollars). His funeral in 1911 was one of the largest Broadlands had ever seen. In the 1980s his great grandchildren received a centennial farm certificate.

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