--New markers cover topics in the counties (towns) of Augusta, Fairfax, Henrico, Loudoun, Louisa, Lunenburg, Prince Edward (Farmville), Prince William, Rockingham, Shenandoah (Mount Jackson), Tazewell, and Wise (Pound); and the cities of Lynchburg (3), Norfolk, and Virginia Beach (2)--
[The full text for each marker is reproduced at the end of this release.]
RICHMOND – The horrific story of a young Congolese man brought to the United States for exhibition at a World’s Fair in the early 20th century, the heroic feats during World War II of the first conscientious objector to receive a Medal of Honor, and the early forays of the U.S. Army in developing the foundations of today’s GPS (Global Positioning System) during the 1960s are among the many topics covered by 18 new historical markers recently approved for installation by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Slated for Lynchburg, the historical marker “Ota Benga (ca. 1885-1916)” recalls the life Mbye Otabenga, known later as Ota Benga. Born in the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, Benga along with “eight other Congolese purported to be ‘Pygmies,’” in the marker’s words, were brought in 1904 by a Presbyterian missionary “to be displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair.”
Benga later was exhibited in the “Monkey House” at the Bronx Zoo in New York. “Outraged African American ministers secured his release from the zoo and placed him in an orphanage in Brooklyn,” the approved marker’s text will state. In 1910, Benga was brought to Lynchburg to attend the Virginia Theological Seminary and College. “Despondent over his inability to return to Africa, he committed suicide nearby in 1916,” the marker concludes.
Another marker that will rise in Lynchburg will highlight the exploits of Desmond Thomas Doss (1919-2006). A Lynchburg native, Doss was a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and a pacifist. Drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, Doss refused to bear arms but considered himself to be a “conscientious cooperator” and served as a medic with the 77th Infantry Division on Okinawa in the spring of 1945.
“On 5 May, under intense fire,” the marker will read, “he saved about 75 wounded men by lowering each one down a cliff.” Badly wounded later in the month, he “gave up his place on a litter to another soldier.” For his actions, Doss became the “first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor.”
In Fairfax County, the marker “U.S. Army Map Service” will publicize “a research station to support geo-location and navigation” established in 1961 at a (now decommissioned) Nike missile site. “Two years later, the Map Service initiated a significant satellite tracking program that became part of the Defense Mapping Agency in 1972,” the marker will state. That tracking system contributed fundamentally to the Global Positioning System (GPS). Data gathered at the facility before it closed in 1993, “enabled geospatial scientists to establish precise geographical reference points on the Earth’s surface and to refine their estimates of the Earth’s true shape and variations in its gravity field,” according to the approved marker text.
An Augusta County marker “Woodrow Wilson General Hospital” will also touch on 20th century military history. Woodrow Wilson Hospital was established in June 1942. “It consisted of about 135 single-story brick buildings with 2.5 miles of sheltered walkways,” according to the forthcoming marker. About 4,000 sick and wounded military personnel were treated at the hospital. In 1947, the Commonwealth of Virginia repurposed a part of the facility as the nation’s first state-owned comprehensive rehabilitation facility for disabled individuals.
Six new markers will also address topics pertaining to African American educational and civil rights history:
Among the other markers approved by the Board of Historic Resources at its quarterly meeting on March 16, there are signs focusing on the origins and early history of the unincorporated community of Bumpass in Louisa County and the Town of Mount Jackson in Shenandoah County. A marker for “Sunnydale Farm” in Wise County recalls the life of Chant Branham Kelly (1894-1979) who is known as the “Father of Pound.”
Two markers will honor Revolutionary War military leaders:
Of the remaining markers, transportation and railroad history will be relayed in the “Cape Henry Railroads” sign in Virginia Beach; in Tazewell County, the work of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp during the 1930s will be recalled; and in Henrico County, a sign will rise to commemorate East End Cemetery, established in 1897 for African Americans.
The Virginia highway marker program, which began in 1927 with installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Rte. 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,500 official state markers, most of which are maintained by Virginia Department of Transportation, except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.
The manufacturing cost of each new highway marker is covered by its sponsor.
More information about the Historical Highway Marker Program is available on the website of the Department of Historic Resources at http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/.
Full Text of Markers:
(Please note that some texts may be slightly modified before the manufacture and installation of the signs. Also locations proposed for each sign must be approved in consultation with VDOT or public works in jurisdictions outside VDOT authority.)
On this site stands Ashburn Colored School, a one-room public schoolhouse built ca. 1892 for African American students. Virginia’s public school system, established in 1870, was racially segregated from its inception. Schools for black children received less funding and offered fewer educational opportunities than those for whites. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregated schools were unconstitutional, but Virginia’s government resisted integration. This school closed in 1958, when its students were transferred to a new segregated school in Leesburg. Loudoun County schools were fully desegregated in the 1968-1969 school year.
Sponsor: Farmwell Station Middle School/Loudoun Education Foundation
Locality: Loudoun County Proposed Location: 20579 Ashburn Road
Bumpass Turnout, named for a family of local landowners, was a side track along the Louisa Railroad, which opened in 1837. A small community, including a post office, general store, and boys’ academy, developed near the turnout’s passenger and freight station. During the Civil War, Union troops under Col. Ulric Dahlgren in Feb. 1864 and under Maj. Gen. George A. Custer in Mar. 1865 destroyed track in this area. Major 20th-century businesses included the B. J. Grasberger Co., which manufactured wooden ice cream spoons for shipment across the eastern United States, and the Bumpass Coop Co. Central to community life were Sharon Christian and St. Thomas Baptist Churches.
Sponsor: Sharon Christian Church
Locality: Louisa County
Proposed Location: near C&O Railroad crossing at Route 601
Cape Henry Railroads
The first railroad to Cape Henry was a temporary tramway built in 1880 to transport materials for the construction of the new Cape Henry Lighthouse. In 1902 the Chesapeake Transit Company opened an electric rail line from Norfolk to the cape, allowing a resort village to develop. A brick passenger depot, 250 yards northwest of here, opened in 1904. Later that year, the line merged with the Norfolk and Southern Railroad. The U.S. Army established Fort Story here in 1914 and laid new track. During World War II the army used these tracks to transport artillery and ammunition for the coastal defense system. Commercial and passenger service to Cape Henry ended in 1947.
Sponsor: Christopher Pieczynski
Locality: Virginia Beach
Proposed Location: Fort Story
Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1392
The Civilian Conservation Corps, part of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, was created in 1933 to employ young men during the Great Depression. CCC Company 1392 established Camp 54 near Bandy, about three miles to the west, early in June 1933. Three weeks later the camp moved here because of problems with the water supply and electricity. About 200 men, many from Southwest Virginia, lived and worked at this site under the supervision of U.S. military officers. They planted trees, established fire breaks, built roads, and strung telephone lines. The camp closed in Oct. 1934 when the company was transferred to Cambridge, Maryland.
Sponsor: John A. Neal
Locality: Tazewell County
Proposed Location: Intersection of SR 637 and Vivian Lane
Col. John Thorowgood Jr.
John Thorowgood Jr., Revolutionary-era leader, lived on an 840-acre plantation near here, on Little Creek. He was elected to the Convention of 1776, which adopted Virginia’s resolutions for independence, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and the state’s first Constitution. Thorowgood represented Princess Anne County in the inaugural session of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1776 and served for six additional terms. During the Revolutionary War he commanded the county militia and by 1781 was a prisoner of war. In his will, written in 1786, he directed that his enslaved African Americans be freed after the deaths of his siblings, to whom they were bequeathed.
Sponsor: Ms. Jorja Jean
Locality: Virginia Beach
Proposed Location: 5381 Northampton Blvd.
Desmond Thomas Doss (1919-2006)
Lynchburg native Desmond T. Doss grew up nearby in the Fairview Heights neighborhood. A member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and a pacifist, Doss was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II but refused to bear arms. Though officially labeled a conscientious objector, he considered himself a “conscientious cooperator.” Doss served as a medic with the 77th Infantry Division on Okinawa in the spring of 1945. On 5 May, under intense fire, he saved about 75 wounded men by lowering each one down a cliff. Later in May he was badly wounded but gave up his place on a litter to another soldier. In Oct. 1945 Doss became the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor.
Sponsor: Military Order of Purple Heart, Chapter 1607
Locality: Lynchburg Proposed Location: southeast corner of Mosby St. and Campbell Ave.
East End Cemetery
The East End Memorial Burial Association of Richmond purchased six acres here in 1897 and established East End Cemetery for African Americans. The cemetery, which was later expanded, featured sidewalks and enclosed plots. It is the final resting place of an estimated 13,000 people, among them some of the most prominent black Richmonders of the early 20th century. Interred here are Rosa D. Bowser, educator and civic leader; Hezekiah F. Jonathan, business owner and vice president of the Mechanics’ Savings Bank; William Custalo, proprietor of a noted bar and hotel; and Dr. Richard F. Tancil, Howard University–educated physician and president of the Nickel Savings Bank.
Sponsor: Friends of East End Cemetery
Locality: Henrico County
Proposed Location: 50 Evergreen Road
Effingham, just south of here, was built ca. 1777 and was the home of William Alexander. In 1774 Alexander was elected to the Prince William County Committee of Safety, charged with enforcing an embargo on trade with Great Britain. During the Revolutionary War he served as a lieutenant colonel in the county militia. Alexander was a great-grandson of John Alexander, for whom the city of Alexandria, Virginia, was named. An enslaved workforce of African Americans lived at Effingham. Remaining on the property are a blacksmith shop, smokehouse, slave quarters, traces of a terraced garden, and a family cemetery, where William Alexander is buried.
Sponsor: Effingham Manor Winery
Locality: Prince William County
Proposed Location: intersection of Aden Road and Trotters Ridge Place, Nokesville
Martha E. Forrester (1863-1951)
Martha E. Forrester lived in this house. In 1920 she helped establish the Council of Colored Women to foster community uplift. As the organization’s president for 31 years, she led its campaigns to improve educational opportunities for African American students in Prince Edward County, securing a longer school term and higher-level courses. She was instrumental in convincing the county to build its first high school for African Americans, which opened in 1939 and was named for educator Robert Russa Moton. The Martha E. Forrester Council of Women, renamed in her honor, later played a central role in establishing the Moton Museum to interpret the history of civil rights in education.
Sponsor: Ms. Beatrice L. White and Robert Russa Moton Museum
Proposed Location: 501 Race Street
This area was a Native American hunting territory before settlers of European descent arrived early in the 18th century. Fertile land and powerful streams supported an agricultural and milling economy. In 1826 the Virginia General Assembly established the town of Mount Jackson here in a community formerly known as Mount Pleasant. Named for Andrew Jackson, later U.S. president, the town became a regional transportation hub because of the Valley Turnpike, built in the 1830s to improve previous roads, and the Manassas Gap Railroad, extended here in 1859. Union and Confederate troops passed through frequently during the Civil War, and several Confederate hospitals were established here.
Sponsor: Mt. Jackson Museum, Inc.
Locality: Mt. Jackson
Proposed Location: Route 11 (Main St.)
Nathaniel Lee Hawthorne (1923-1975)
Nathaniel Lee Hawthorne, civil rights leader, campaigned for racial and social justice for the people of Southside Virginia. A native of Lunenburg County and a World War II veteran, he conducted his work despite death threats and other attempts at intimidation. Operating from the “Freedom House” in Victoria, Hawthorne chaired the Lunenburg branch of the NAACP from 1965 to 1974 and was a coordinator of the Virginia Students’ Civil Rights Committee. He led efforts to desegregate schools, register voters, gain equal access to restaurants and stores, and secure African American representation in local government. In 1965 he organized a voting rights march that passed along this route.
Sponsor: Voter Registration March Re-Enactment Committee
Locality: Lunenburg County
Proposed Location: 701 Mecklenburg Avenue, Victoria
Newtown (East Elkton) School
The Newtown School, built here in 1921-1922, served African American students during the segregation era. Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck, and Co., collaborated with Booker T. Washington in a school-building campaign beginning in 1912. The Rosenwald Fund, incorporated in 1917, helped build more than 5,000 schools and supporting structures for African Americans in the rural South by 1932. The Rosenwald Fund contributed $1,000 toward the Newtown School, while local African Americans donated $872 and Rockingham County provided $2,628. The three-teacher school, the county’s last solely for black students, closed in 1965 and is the only remaining Rosenwald-funded school building in the county.
Sponsor: Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project
Locality: Rockingham County
Proposed Location: intersection of Newtown Road (Route 759) and Samuels Road (Route 638)
Ota Benga (ca. 1885-1916)
Mbye Otabenga, later known as Ota Benga, was born in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1904 the Rev. Samuel P. Verner, a Presbyterian missionary and adventurer, brought Benga and eight other Congolese purported to be “Pygmies” to be displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Two years later the Bronx Zoo in New York exhibited Benga in its “Monkey House” alongside an orangutan. Outraged African American ministers secured his release from the zoo and placed him in an orphanage in Brooklyn. In 1910 Benga was brought to Lynchburg to attend the Virginia Theological Seminary and College. Despondent over his inability to return to Africa, he committed suicide nearby in 1916.
Sponsor: Ann van de Graaf
Proposed Location: Garfield Avenue near the Virginia University of Lynchburg
Plummer Bernard Young Sr. (1884-1962)
North Carolina native Plummer Bernard (P. B.) Young moved to Norfolk in 1907 to work at the Lodge Journal and Guide, the newspaper of an African American fraternal organization. He bought the paper in 1910, expanded its scope, and renamed it the Journal and Guide. By the 1940s, it was among the most widely circulated African American weeklies in the nation, and Young became one of Virginia’s most influential black citizens. His newspaper championed racial equality, urging better housing, schools, jobs, and municipal services for African Americans. Young, a trustee of Howard University and Hampton Institute, also chaired the advisory board of what is now Norfolk State University.
Proposed Location: TBD
Sunnydale Farm, just to the north, was the home of Chant Branham Kelly (1894-1979), known as the “Father of Pound.” Kelly grew up here, served in the U.S. Army during the Mexican Expedition (1916-1917) and World War I, and returned in the 1920s. Eager to promote community development, he built much of Pound’s business district, opened several stores, and recruited other merchants. He led efforts to secure the town’s first paved road, electric and telephone service, a water system, a fire department, and a crucial dam to alleviate flooding. Kelly is buried in the family cemetery at Sunnydale Farm. The farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sponsor: Historical Society of the Pound
Locality: Wise County
Proposed Location: 9725 Mountain Cove Road (Route 631)
U.S. Army Map Service
Here, at a former Nike missile site, the U.S. Army Map Service established a research station to support geo-location and navigation in 1961. Two years later, the Map Service initiated a significant satellite tracking program that became part of the Defense Mapping Agency in 1972. This tracking system contributed fundamentally to the Global Positioning System (GPS). The data gathered here enabled geospatial scientists to establish precise geographical reference points on the Earth’s surface and to refine their estimates of the Earth’s true shape and variations in its gravity field. This facility closed in 1993.
Sponsor: Analemma Society
Locality: Fairfax County
Proposed Location: 925 Springvale Road (Route 674), Great Falls
Virginia Collegiate and Industrial Institute
The Virginia Collegiate and Industrial Institute opened just east of here in 1893 as a branch of Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland. The school offered college preparation, industrial education, and teacher training to African American students. Jackson Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Lynchburg purchased land for the campus and provided additional financial support. The Freedmen's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church contributed funds for operating expenses. African American educator Frank Trigg was the institute’s first principal. After a fire destroyed the main building in Dec. 1917, the school closed and its students were transferred to Morgan College in Baltimore.
Sponsor: Morgan State University
Proposed Location: intersection of Campbell Ave. (US 501) and Seabury Ave.
Woodrow Wilson General Hospital
The U.S. Army, needing stateside medical facilities during World War II, broke ground for Woodrow Wilson General Hospital here in June 1942. Named for the former U.S. president born in nearby Staunton, the hospital consisted of about 135 single-story brick buildings with 2.5 miles of sheltered walkways. In June 1943, the first of more than 4,000 sick and wounded military personnel arrived by train. The complex was declared surplus in 1946, and the Commonwealth of Virginia repurposed part of it in 1947 as the nation’s first state-owned comprehensive rehabilitation facility for disabled individuals. The rest of the complex became part of the Augusta County public school system.
Sponsor: Delegate Richard Bell
Locality: Augusta County Proposed
Location: Woodrow Wilson Ave., approximately 0.5 mile beyond intersection with US 250, Fishersville
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