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Virginia Department of Historic Resources

10 New State Historical Markers Approved in June (2018)

New markers cover topics in the counties of Amelia, Nelson, Shenandoah, and Stafford; and the cities of Danville, Lynchburg, Richmond, Virginia Beach (2), and Williamsburg: 

Among ten new historical markers recently approved for placement along Virginia roads will be signs that highlight a Lynchburg-based football team that became known as the “Shoeless Wonders,” a World War II German prisoner of war camp in Virginia Beach, and a colonial-era school founded in Williamsburg (as suggested by Benjamin Franklin) for the education of enslaved and free black children. (The full text for each marker is provided at the end of this announcement.)

The “Shoeless Wonders Football Team” marker will rise in Lynchburg to recall the team of the Presbyterian Orphans’ Home, which played its first games by 1922. “The players, boys under the age of 18, received minimal coaching, wore second-hand uniforms, and soon began competing without shoes, except for a boot used during kickoffs,” the marker will read.

In 1926, newsreels and reports in newspapers spiraled the team to national fame as the “Shoeless Wonders.” A Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” cartoon also featured the squad. The team, according to the forthcoming marker, “was undefeated for at least six straight seasons before 1931 and held opponents scoreless for at least five of those years.” The sign is sponsored by HumanKind, formerly the Presbyterian Orphans’ Home.

In Virginia Beach the marker “Camp Ashby” will tell about a 200-acre site that served as a German WW II prisoner of war camp. The camp’s headquarters was the main building of the former tuberculosis sanatorium Tidewater Memorial Hospital, which had opened in 1937. More than 6,000 men were housed at the camp, including troops from Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrikakorps and soldiers captured after D-Day in 1944. “Because of acute labor shortages in the region, prisoners were deployed as agricultural and industrial workers. They earned wages, and the camp provided them with food, medical care, academic classes, church services, a library, and a theater,” the marker will state.

Benjamin Franklin suggested to the London-based charity the Associates of Dr. Bray, to which he belonged, that it locate a proposed school for enslaved and free blacks in Williamsburg. Founded there in 1760, the school received support from the College of William & Mary. “Anne Wager instructed as many as 400 boys and girls during her 14 years as teacher,” the marker will read. She taught “principles of Christianity, deportment, reading, and, possibly, writing,” according to the W&M-sponsored marker. “The curriculum reinforced proslavery ideology but also spread literacy within the black community.” The school re-located by 1765 and closed in 1774.

Four new markers will address African American topics in Virginia and U.S. history, three during the Reconstruction-era after the Civil War.

  • “Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Church and Cemetery,” a sign slated for Stafford County, will highlight the 1868 founding of the church by 27 African Americans, who selected a former slave, York Johnson, as their pastor. Under Johnson’s guidance, the church established a cemetery—“an exercise of newfound autonomy over burial practices and funerals.” The Stafford County branch of the NAACP was founded at the church, where community members planned strategies to desegregate local public schools.
  • In the Town of Woodstock (Shenandoah Co.), the “Mt. Zion Methodist Church” marker will recall the church’s congregation formed around 1867 and in 1869 “acquired the framework of a former German Reformed church.” The congregation then relocated and adapted it for its first church sanctuary. The church became the center of the town’s African American community. Woodstock’s first African American public school was built on the church lot in 1882, and a new sanctuary built there in 1921.
  • In Amelia County the “McDowell Delaney (1844-1926)” sign will highlight the life of Delaney, born to free African American parents. He worked as a cook and teamster for the 14th Virginia Infantry Regiment, later attended a school taught by his father, and managed property at the Freedmen’s Bureau Hospital in Farmville. He represented Amelia in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1871 to 1873 and participated in a state convention of African Americans in 1875, and served the county as a justice of the peace, constable, and coroner. An ordained minister, Delaney was pastor of Chester Grove Baptist Church for 35 years.
  • The sign “First State Bank” recalls its opening in 1919 as the Savings Bank of Danville, one of the few banks in Virginia owned by African Americans. The bank issued loans to individuals, businesses, and churches, fostering a vibrant black community during the segregation era. Its long-time officer and president Maceo Conrad Martin was the only black member of a special seven-man grand jury called during Danville’s civil rights demonstrations of 1963 who issued a lone dissent against the indictments of protesters. First State Bank posted bond for nearly 20 jailed demonstrators.

Three other new markers were greenlighted during a quarterly meeting in June of the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to approve new signs: 

  • “Virginia Blue Ridge Railway,” will rise in Nelson County alongside the Piney River Depot, once part of the railway. The short-line VBRR was built in 1915-1916 to transport lumber from industrial sawmills at Woodson and Massies Mill. After the chestnut blight and a poor economy caused the two sawmills to shut down, several mineral-processing plants nearby began operating in the 1930s, creating prosperity for the railroad, whose line offered access to national markets. The mineral plants closed by 1980. During the following decade the VBRR tracks were removed.
  • In Virginia Beach the “Meeting of Three Commanders will recall the important September 18, 1781, face-to-face between George Washington, the Comte de Rochambeau, and Admiral de Grasse during the Revolutionary War. De Grasse commanded a large French fleet that had recently defeated a British fleet off the Virginia Capes on September 5 and taken control of the Chesapeake Bay. Gen. George Washington and Rochambeau, commander of the French expeditionary army, met with de Grasse aboard his flagship to plan entrapping the British army at Yorktown. As Washington and Rochambeau left, sailors atop the masts of the French ships saluted them with running musket fire while the flagship fired its cannons.
  • In Richmond, the “ChildSavers’ WRVA Building” marker will highlight that Philip Johnson, one of the foremost architects of the 20th century, designed the former WRVA Radio headquarters building and its accompanying tower. Dedicated in 1968, the structures were composed of poured concrete, and the windows simulated punches made by a machine. WRVA, founded in 1925, had a powerful broadcast signal and was known as the “Voice of Virginia.” ChildSavers, a nonprofit provider of mental health and child development services, acquired the WRVA Building in 2003. The organization originated in 1924 when social reformer Martha Patteson Bowie Branch established the Children’s Memorial Clinic in Richmond.

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 https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/highway-markers/.

[PLEASE NOTE: DHR markers are erected not to “honor” their subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, markers are not memorials.]

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.)

School for Black Children

The Associates of Dr. Bray, a London-based charity, founded a school for enslaved and free black children here in 1760. Located in Williamsburg at the suggestion of Benjamin Franklin, a member of the Associates, the school received support from the College of William & Mary. Anne Wager instructed as many as 400 boys and girls during her 14 years as teacher. In a culture hostile to educating African Americans, Wager taught the students principles of Christianity, deportment, reading, and, possibly, writing. The curriculum reinforced proslavery ideology but also spread literacy within the black community. The school moved from this site by 1765 and closed in 1774.

Sponsor: College of William & Mary
Locality: Williamsburg
Proposed Location: 107 North Boundary St. on the campus of William & Mary
Sponsor Contact: Susan Kern, sakern@wm.edu; Michael J. Fox, mjfox1@wm.edu

 

Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Church and Cemetery

This church originated in 1868 when 27 African Americans withdrew from nearby White Oak Church and selected the Rev. York Johnson, a former slave, as their pastor. Johnson founded the Union Branch of the True Vine, a mutual aid society, reportedly with the assistance of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The church established a cemetery, enabling African Americans to exercise newfound autonomy over burial practices and funerals. Buried here are veterans of World Wars I and II and Korea. The church’s sanctuary, built in 1870, was replaced in 1951. Here the Stafford County branch of the NAACP was founded, and community members met to plan strategies for the desegregation of local public schools.

Sponsor: Mr. Norman Schools
Locality: Stafford County
Proposed Location: 135 Chapel Green Road
Sponsor Contact: Frank White, fmwhit@cox.net; Norman Schools, small47@aol.com

 

First State Bank

First State Bank, one of the few banks in Virginia owned by African Americans, opened on 8 Sept. 1919 as the Savings Bank of Danville. By issuing loans to individuals, businesses, and churches, the bank fostered the black community’s vitality during the era of segregation. Maceo Conrad Martin (1897-1981), an officer of the bank from 1919 to 1970, became its president in 1951 and was later president of the National Bankers Association. The only black member of a special seven-man grand jury called during Danville’s civil rights demonstrations of 1963, Martin issued a lone dissent against the indictments of protesters. First State Bank posted bond for nearly 20 jailed demonstrators.

Sponsor: Movement Mortgage
Locality: Danville
Proposed Location: 201 N. Union St.
Sponsor Contact: Renee Burton, burtotr@danvilleva.gov

 

McDowell Delaney (1844-1926)

McDowell Delaney was born to free African American parents in Amelia County. During the Civil War he worked as a cook and teamster for the 14th Virginia Infantry Regiment. He later attended a school taught by his father and managed property at the Freedmen’s Bureau Hospital in Farmville. Delaney represented Amelia in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1871 to 1873 and participated in a state convention of African Americans in 1875. He served the county as a justice of the peace, constable, and coroner. Delaney, an ordained minister, was pastor of Chester Grove Baptist Church for 35 years.

Sponsor: Emanuel’s Production
Locality: Amelia County
Proposed Location: 12535 Fowlkes Bridge Road
Sponsor Contact: Emanuel Hyde, scoop3132@gmail.com

 

Mt. Zion Methodist Church

Inspired by visits from traveling preachers, African Americans in Woodstock organized what would become Mt. Zion United Methodist Church ca. 1867. The congregation acquired the framework of a former German Reformed church in 1869, moved it to this site, and used it to construct a sanctuary. In a town segregated by race, this church was the center of the African American neighborhood and hosted religious, educational, political, and social events. After black residents campaigned for a school building, Woodstock’s first African American public school was built on the church lot in 1882. The congregation constructed a new sanctuary here in 1921 under the leadership of the Rev. W. H. Polk.

Sponsor: Mt. Zion Methodist Church
Locality: Town of Woodstock
Proposed Location: 158 N. Church St.
Sponsor Contact: Zachary Hottel, zhottel@countylib.org

 

Shoeless Wonders Football Team

The nearby Presbyterian Orphans’ Home (later HumanKind) fielded its first football team by 1922. The players, boys under the age of 18, received minimal coaching, wore second-hand uniforms, and soon began competing without shoes, except for a boot used during kickoffs. In 1926, news reports about the “Shoeless Wonders” propelled the team to national fame. The New York Times, Universal Pictures newsreels, and a Ripley’s Believe it or Not cartoon featured the squad, which was undefeated for at least six straight seasons before 1931 and held opponents scoreless for at least five of those years. Later teams won consistently in the city league and against opponents from other Virginia localities.

Sponsor: HumanKind—Presbyterian Homes Campus
Locality: Lynchburg
Proposed Location: intersection of Linden Avenue and Peakland Place
Sponsor Contact: Bob Dendy, bdendy@humankind.org; Jane Baber White, janebaberwhite@gmail.com

 

Camp Ashby

Camp Ashby, a World War II prisoner of war camp for German soldiers, occupied more than 200 acres just north of here. Its headquarters was the main building of the former Tidewater Memorial Hospital, a tuberculosis sanatorium that had opened on this site in 1937. Among the more than 6,000 men housed in the camp between Mar. 1944 and Apr. 1946 were troops from Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrikakorps and many soldiers captured on or shortly after D-Day. Because of acute labor shortages in the region, prisoners were deployed as agricultural and industrial workers. They earned wages, and the camp provided them with food, medical care, academic classes, church services, a library, and a theater.

Sponsor: Ms. Julie Spivey
Locality: Virginia Beach
Proposed Location: north side of 4200 block of Virginia Beach Boulevard
Sponsor Contact: Julie Spivey, jspivey06@gmail.com

 

Virginia Blue Ridge Railway

This is the Piney River Depot of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway, a short-line railroad built in 1915-1916 to transport lumber from industrial sawmills at Woodson and Massies Mill. Steam engines were used until 1963, when the railroad converted to diesel power. The railroad connected with the Southern Railway at Tye River, providing access to national markets. Economic conditions and the chestnut blight caused the two sawmills to shut down by 1924. The establishment of several mineral-processing plants nearby beginning in the 1930s created prosperity for the railroad until these plants closed by 1980. The tracks were removed in the 1980s.

Sponsor: Massies Mill Ruritan Club
Locality: Nelson County
Proposed Location: 3136 Patrick Henry Highway, Piney River
Sponsor Contact: David Hight, dhuminc@gmail.com

 

Meeting of Three Commanders

Admiral de Grasse, commander of a large French fleet, gained control of the Chesapeake Bay after defeating a British fleet off the Virginia Capes on 5 Sept. 1781. Gen. George Washington, commander in chief of the combined American and French armies, and the Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French expeditionary army, met with de Grasse aboard his flagship near here on 18 Sept. The officers planned to entrap the British army at Yorktown. As Washington and Rochambeau left, sailors atop the masts of the French ships saluted them with running musket fire known as a feu de joie while the flagship fired its cannons. The siege of Yorktown began on 28 Sept. The British surrendered on 19 Oct.

Sponsor: Ms. Jorja Jean
Locality: Virginia Beach
Proposed Location: 3125 Shore Drive
Sponsor Contact: Jorja Jean, Jorja.jean1954@gmail.com

 

ChildSavers’ WRVA Building

Philip Johnson, one of the foremost architects of the 20th century, designed this building and its accompanying tower as a new headquarters for WRVA Radio. Dedicated in 1968, the structures were composed of poured concrete, and the windows simulated punches made by a machine. WRVA, founded by a local tobacco company in 1925, broadcast with a powerful signal and was known as the “Voice of Virginia.” ChildSavers, a nonprofit provider of mental health and child development services, acquired the WRVA Building in 2003. ChildSavers originated in 1924 when social reformer Martha Patteson Bowie Branch established the Children’s Memorial Clinic in Richmond.

Sponsor: ChildSavers—Memorial Child Guidance Clinic
Locality: City of Richmond
Proposed Location: 200 North 22nd St.
Sponsor Contact: Amy Garmon, agarmon@childsavers.org

Updated October 2, 2018