Department of Historic Resources
For Immediate Release
June 19, 2017

Randy Jones
Department of Historic Resources
540.578-3031 (cell)


-- —New markers cover topics in the counties of Albemarle, Campbell, Fairfax, and Madison; and the cities of Danville, Lynchburg (3), Norfolk, Petersburg, and Richmond—

[The full text for each marker is reproduced at the end of this release.]

RICHMOND – Among twelve new historical markers recently approved for placement along Virginia roads will be signs highlighting the deadliest crash in the U.S. involving a hydrogen Army airship, the career of an enslaved man who became a famous and rich figure in American horse racing, and the first Virginian—a baseball player from Madison County—inducted into the International League Hall of Fame.

The new markers were authorized by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources during its public quarterly meeting convened in June by the Department of Historic Resources.

Slated for installation in Norfolk, the marker “Airship Roma Disaster” recalls the now largely forgotten story of the crash and explosion of a U.S. Army dirigible on February 21, 1922. After 1922, U.S. airships were inflated with helium, instead of the highly inflammable gas hydrogen. The crash of the Roma “killed 34 of the 45 officers, crewmen, and civilians on board,” the sign will read.

In Petersburg a historical marker will rise for legendary horseman Charles Stewart. He was born into slavery around 1808 near the city and spent part of his childhood on Pocahontas Island. Around age 12, Stewart was sold to a renowned figure in horse racing, then America’s most popular sport. Stewart gained experience as a trainer, stable manager and expert in stallions. He earned money and fame and eventually supervised the highly regarded stables of a U.S. senator from Louisiana.

Professional baseball player Oliver Dinwiddie Tucker will be remembered with a highway marker near Madison County’s crossroads community of Radiant, where Tucker grew up. “He appeared in 34 Major League games in 1927 and 1928, first with the Washington Senators and then with the Cleveland Indians,” the marker will state. Between 1930 and 1935 Tucker amassed a .322 batting average. He hit .376 in 1930, and during the 1932 season had 52 doubles. In 2008, be was inducted into the International League Hall of Fame.

A marker for the Richmond-area will relay the story of another aeronautical disaster, that of Imperial Airlines Flight 201/8. The plane with 74 U.S. Army recruits crashed on November 8, 1961, killing all the recruits and three of five crew members. “At that time, the crash was the worst in Virginia history and the second-deadliest in U.S. history for a single civilian aircraft,” the sign will relay. The tragedy resulted in an investigation of charter aircraft that found many violations of safety standards in the industry. In 1962, Congress required that “all supplemental carriers reapply for certification by the Civil Aeronautics Board and meet stricter insurance and financial requirements,” the marker will conclude.

Another disaster that had national consequences, the Federal Transient Bureau Fire, will be the subject of a sign for Lynchburg. The deadliest fire in the city’s history, it occurred on March 24, 1934 and burned a two-story homeless shelter opened by the federal government for out-of-work men during the Great Depression. At least 19 men died when fire spread quickly through the overcrowded building. Seven of the victims were buried in Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery. The disaster brought national attention to Lynchburg and resulted in improved federal guidelines for homeless shelters.

The careers of two one-time residents of Lynchburg will also be commemorated with historical markers:

Two veterans of the Revolutionary War will also be honored with historical markers:

The founding and early history of two Virginia colleges will be highlighted as well with new historical markers:

In Albemarle County, a marker is planned to commemorate the Thomas Jefferson-affiliated Grace Episcopal Church. First known as Middle Church, Grace Episcopal was a wood-frame building later called Walker’s Church. It’s rector, the Rev. James Maury, operated a classical school that Jefferson attended near the church. Jefferson also served on the parish vestry from 1767 to 1770. In 1855, the old frame church was replaced by a Gothic Revival building designed by William Strickland, one of the nation’s foremost architects.

In addition to these 12 new historical markers, the Virginia Board of Historic Resources also approved during its June 15 meeting replacing 20 older historical markers, some dating to the early years of the 90-year old program, that have been irreparably damaged or lost or outlived their utility. The texts of each of the signs will be revised and expanded to enhance the informative and educational value of each marker’s subject topic.

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.

Together the register and tax credit rehabilitation programs play significant roles in promoting Virginia’s heritage and the preservation of the Commonwealth’s historic places and in spurring economic revitalization and tourism in many towns and communities.

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

Full Text of Markers:

Airship Roma Disaster
The U.S. Army dirigible Roma crashed and exploded just west of here during a test flight on 21 Feb. 1922. The crash, the deadliest involving a U.S. hydrogen airship, killed 34 of the 45 officers, crewmen, and civilians on board. Roma, purchased from the Italian government, was based at Langley Field in Hampton and had been plagued with troubles since arriving in the United States in 1921. An investigation blamed the heavy loss of life on the use of hydrogen, a highly inflammable gas. After 1922, U.S. airships were inflated with helium. In later years, the story of Roma was largely forgotten.
Sponsor: Nancy E. Sheppard
Locality: Norfolk Proposed
Location: corner of Terminal Blvd and Hampton Blvd
Sponsor Contact: Nancy Sheppard,

Charles Stewart (ca. 1808-after 1884)
Charles Stewart, horseman, was born into slavery near Petersburg and spent part of his childhood on Pocahontas Island. At about the age of 12 he was sold to William R. Johnson, one of the foremost figures in horse racing, then America’s most popular sport. Stewart succeeded as a jockey, trainer, stable manager, and stallion man, affording him money and fame. Artist Edward Troye painted his portrait with the stallion Medley in 1832. Johnson sent Stewart to run a stable in Kentucky in 1837 and later sold him to Alexander Porter, U.S. senator from Louisiana. Stewart then supervised Porter’s highly regarded stables. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine published Stewart’s dictated memoir in 1884.
Sponsor: Pegram Johnson III and Pocahontas Island Museum
Locality: Petersburg Proposed Location: entrance to Pocahontas Island
Sponsor Contact: Pegram Johnson III,

Oliver Dinwiddie Tucker (1902-1940)
Oliver Dinwiddie Tucker, baseball player, grew up here in Radiant. After six years in the minor leagues, he appeared in 34 Major League games in 1927 and 1928, first with the Washington Senators and then with the Cleveland Indians. While playing for the Buffalo Bisons of the International League between 1930 and 1935, he amassed a .322 batting average and hit .376 in 1930. He established the decades-old team record for doubles with 52 during the 1932 season. Tucker was elected to the Bisons’ Hall of Fame in 1986, and in 2008 he became the first Virginian inducted into the International League Hall of Fame. He is buried in a family cemetery just north of here.
Sponsor: Robert Lookabill
Locality: Madison County
Proposed Location: Route 230 near intersection with Route 691, in Radiant
Sponsor Contact: Robert Lookabill,

Imperial Airlines Flight 201/8
Imperial Airlines Flight 201/8, carrying 74 U.S. Army recruits to Columbia, SC, crashed four miles north of here on 8 Nov. 1961. All of the recruits and three of five crew members perished. At the time, the crash was the worst in Virginia history and the second-deadliest in U.S. history for a single civilian aircraft. At fault were poor airline management, substandard maintenance, and crew error. The tragedy resulted in an investigation of the charter aircraft industry that revealed many violations of safety standards. In 1962 Congress mandated that all supplemental carriers reapply for certification by the Civil Aeronautics Board and meet stricter insurance and financial requirements.
Sponsor: Phyllis McKoy
Locality: TBD
Proposed Location: TBD
Sponsor Contact: Phyllis McKoy,

Federal Transient Bureau Fire
The deadliest fire in Lynchburg history occurred here at a Federal Transient Bureau shelter on 24 March 1934. The Bureau, opened by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration as part of the New Deal, housed out-of-work men passing through town during the Great Depression. The two-story building was overcrowded when an early morning kitchen fire spread rapidly and claimed the lives of at least 19 inhabitants; about 70 others were injured. The federal government returned many bodies to their families, but seven were buried locally in the Old City Cemetery. National attention was focused on Lynchburg, and federal guidelines for homeless shelters were improved as a result of this disaster.
Sponsor: Old City Cemetery/Southern Memorial Association and City of Lynchburg Convention and Visitor Center
Locality: Lynchburg
Proposed Location: 216 Twelfth St.
Sponsor Contact: Jane White,

Helen Pesci Wood (1911-1964)
Helen Pesci Wood, operatic soprano and arts educator, was born in Chicago and lived near here for many years. She began performing professionally in the 1940s. Over the next two decades, she appeared at Carnegie Hall and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Montreal, and on the Chicago Theater of the Air. From 1950 to 1964 she was a soloist at the Colonial Williamsburg Governor’s Palace Candlelight Concerts. Wood taught voice at Lynchburg College and, in 1952, she organized the Virginia Grass Roots Opera, a troupe that traveled thousands of miles and brought the art form to communities throughout Virginia.
Sponsor: Family and Friends of Helen Pesci Wood
Locality: Lynchburg
Proposed Location: 3766 Fort Ave.
Sponsor Contact: Jane White,

Cary Devall Langhorne (1873-1948)
Lynchburg native Cary D. Langhorne spent his early years here. He served in the U.S. Navy as a surgeon and was wounded in the Philippine-American War (1899-1902). During the Mexican Revolution, the U.S. government disputed the legitimacy of Mexican Pres. Victoriano Huerta. Clashes over a German arms shipment and the detention of American sailors led Pres. Woodrow Wilson to order American vessels, including Langhorne’s ship USS Vermont, to seize the port of Veracruz. On 22 Apr. 1914, during the ensuing chaotic battle, Langhorne carried a wounded man to safety under heavy fire, for which he received the Medal of Honor. He later served aboard a hospital ship during World War I.
Sponsor: Military Order of the Purple Heart, Chapter 1607
Locality: Lynchburg
Proposed Location: 313 Washington Street
Sponsor Contact: Doug Harvey,

Mount Airy
About two miles southwest is Mount Airy, a plantation house built ca. 1800 for Col. Thomas Leftwich (1740-1816). The two-story frame house retains much of its Federal-style woodwork. Leftwich served in the Seven Years’ War and was a captain of the Bedford County militia during the Revolutionary War. He was later a lieutenant colonel and commander of Virginia’s 10th militia regiment. Leftwich served Bedford County as a justice, sheriff, and member of the Virginia House of Delegates. About 30 enslaved African Americans worked at Mount Airy. Leftwich and his brothers William, Uriah, and Joel, also veterans of the Revolutionary War, are buried in the property’s family cemetery.
Sponsor: Robert C. Light
Locality: Campbell County
Proposed Location: intersection of Route 43 (Bedford Highway) and Route 630 (Challis Ford Road)
Sponsor Contact: Robert C. Light,

William Brown, M.D. (ca. 1748-1792)
Dr. William Brown, Revolutionary War physician, was born in Scotland and raised in Maryland. After studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, he established a practice in Alexandria. In 1775 he became surgeon of the 2nd Virginia Regiment. In 1778 the Continental Congress appointed him physician general of the Middle Department, extending from the Hudson to the Potomac River. At the military hospital in Lititz, PA, Brown compiled the “Lititz Pharmacopeia” (1778), a collection of medical procedures and formulas for the compounding of medications. This was the first American formulary and a pioneering effort to provide standardized care. Brown is buried here in Pohick Cemetery.
Sponsor: Friends of Colonial Pohick and The Mary Elizabeth Conover Foundation, Inc.
Locality: Fairfax County
Proposed Location: in vicinity of Pohick Church, 9301 Richmond Hwy, Lorton
Sponsor Contact: Lawrence M. Nelson,

Averett University
The Virginia General Assembly chartered Union Female College, forerunner of Averett University, in 1859. Supported by the Concord, Dan River, and Roanoke Baptist Associations, the school offered preparatory and collegiate instruction to young women. Classes were held in downtown Danville until 1911, when Main Hall, a Neo-Classical Revival-style building, opened here on a new 15-acre campus. At the request of alumnae, the school was renamed in 1917 for the Averett family, eight of whose members served as trustees, presidents, principals, and professors. Averett later became a co-educational, four-year university combining the liberal arts and sciences with professional programs.
Sponsor: Averett University
Locality: Danville
Proposed Location: 420 W. Main St.
Sponsor Contact: Cassie Williams Jones,

Richmond Professional Institute
A group of community leaders founded the Richmond School of Social Economy, later known as the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health, in 1917. Initial instruction was in the fields of social work and nursing, but the curriculum soon expanded. In 1925 the school became the Richmond Division of the College of William and Mary and moved to its permanent home here at 827 West Franklin Street. It adopted the name Richmond Professional Institute (RPI) in 1939. RPI separated from William and Mary in 1962 and operated as an independent state institution before merging with the Medical College of Virginia in 1968 to form Virginia Commonwealth University.
Sponsor: VCU School of Social Work and the RPI Alumni Council
Locality: Richmond
Proposed Location: 827 West Franklin St. Sponsor Contact: Portia Chan,

Grace Episcopal Church
The vestry of Fredericksville Parish commissioned a church for this site in 1745. First known as Middle Church, the wood-frame building was later called Walker’s Church. Thomas Jefferson attended the nearby classical school of the Rev. James Maury, who was rector here and is buried in the churchyard. Jefferson served on the parish vestry from 1767 to 1770. In the 19th century, parishioner Judith Page Walker Rives enlisted William Strickland, one of the nation’s foremost architects, to design a replacement for the old frame church. The Gothic Revival sanctuary, consecrated by Bishop William Meade as Grace Church in 1855, is Strickland’s only known work in Virginia.
Sponsor: Vestry of Grace Episcopal Church
Locality: Albemarle County
Proposed Location: 5607 Gordonsville Road, Keswick
Sponsor Contact: Harry Gamble,