No house in Hanover County has a more distinguished history than Rural Plains. The home hosted the 1754 wedding of Patrick Henry and Sarah Shelton. In May 1864, Civil War armies fought on the property in a preliminary to the bloody action at Cold Harbor. Union Major General Winfield S. Hancock established his headquarters at Rural Plains while the women and children of the Shelton family took refuge in the basement. A signal station on the roof of the house attracted Confederate fire, and 51 artillery shells hit the building on May 30 alone. Multiple generations of the Shelton family were proud stewards of the property.
But in the late 1990’s, the fate of this nationally significant place was uncertain. The last descendant, William R. Shelton, Jr., had no children to whom he could leave his land. He was committed, however, to saving the property from development.
Developer Andy Shield and preservationist Bob Bluford brokered a deal to acquire the Shelton farm, and preserve it. When 457 acres were rezoned for his Bell Creek subdivision in 2000, Shield was allowed to build more houses in exchange for a agreement to create 125 acre historic park from the Shelton farm. Shield’s Totopotomoy Battlefield At Rural Plains Foundation purchased the farm, with the help of The Civil War Trust, in 2001. Mr. Shelton continued to live at Rural Plains until his death, at age 85 on May 5, 2006. Less than a month later, his preservation dream came true when the property was transferred to the National Park Service.
On June 1, 2006, the Shelton farm became The Totopotomoy Creek Battlefield at Rural Plains, the thirteenth unit of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. In 2011, after extensive historical research, stabilization of the Shelton house, and the creation of 2.5 miles of interpretative trails, the site was officially opened to the public.