6 New State Historical Highway Markers Approved

Published October 4, 2023

Virginia Department of Historic Resources
(dhr.virginia.gov)
For Immediate Release
October 4, 2023

Contact:
Ivy Tan
Department of Historic Resources
Marketing & Communications Manager
ivy.tan@dhr.virginia.gov
804-482-6445

—Markers cover topics in the counties of Hanover, Henrico, and New Kent; in the city of Roanoke; and in the towns of Abingdon and Pulaski—

—Text of each marker reproduced below—

PLEASE NOTE: DHR creates markers 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, erected markers are not memorials.

RICHMOND – Among the six new historical markers coming to roadsides in Virginia are signs that will recall the work of James Pawpaw, an enslaved man who developed treatments for illnesses within enslaved communities in the 18th century; the former farm and residence of the Rev. Samuel Davies, a colonial-era Presbyterian pastor known for his impassioned sermons during the Great Awakening in the South; and one of the first Black-owned medical clinics in Southwest Virginia.

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved the markers on September 21, 2023, during its quarterly meeting hosted by DHR.

A forthcoming marker will highlight the life and work of James Pawpaw, an 18th-century enslaved man in New Kent County who developed remedies for various ailments that were common among enslaved communities. Likely born in Africa, Pawpaw was known for his treatment for yaws, a bacterial infection prevalent in overcrowded living conditions and characterized by painful sores and lesions. In 1729, Pawpaw provided the recipes for his medicines to Lt. Gov. William Gooch and the Council of State. In exchange, Gooch paid Frances Littlepage of nearby Cumberland plantation £50 to secure Pawpaw’s freedom. For his medical contributions, Pawpaw also received an annual pension of £20. His remedy for yaws was widely published and appeared in British North America’s first domestic medical manual, Every Man His Own Doctor, which was printed by Benjamin Franklin and by others.

Two newly approved markers also focus on Black history in Virginia:

  • In the Town of Pulaski, Calfee Training School—formerly called the Pulaski Graded School—was built in 1894 and eventually served African American students through grade 11 until a fire destroyed it in 1938. The following year, two of the school’s faculty staff, Chauncey Harmon and Willis Gravely, petitioned the county school board for equal facilities and teacher pay with help from Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP. Calfee was rebuilt as an elementary school in 1939 using Public Works Administration funds. However, the new building failed to accommodate Black high school students, and those seeking secondary education had to attend the Christiansburg Industrial Institute in neighboring Montgomery County. In 1949, a federal court ruled in Corbin v. County School Board that Pulaski’s Black high school students were unlawfully denied equal educational opportunities. Pulaski County desegregated its schools in 1966.
  • In the City of Roanoke, Dr. John B. Claytor Sr. opened the Claytor Memorial Clinic in memory of his late wife, Roberta, in 1948. Located in a vibrant Black community, the clinic was one of the first Black-owned medical clinics in Southwest Virginia. Twentieth-century Urban Renewal led the city to demolish numerous homes, businesses, and churches between 1955 and the 1990s—a move that uprooted Roanoke’s Black neighborhoods as well as many others across the country. In the 1970s the city planned to acquire the clinic and other Claytor-owned buildings using eminent domain but then never actually did so, leaving the properties in limbo for years. In 2001 the Claytors initiated legal action that helped inspire limitations on redevelopment authorities and eminent domain.

Virginia’s colonial era features prominently in one forthcoming marker:

  • In Hanover County, Polegreen Church’s glebe was a farm and residence built during the 18th century for the church’s first pastor, the Rev. Samuel Davies (1723-1761), a leader of the Great Awakening in the South. Polegreen Church was composed of a congregation of Presbyterians dissenting from Virginia’s established Church of England. Davies served as Polegreen’s pastor for more than 10 years beginning in 1748. He was known as a powerful orator who gained converts, founded churches, defended the rights of dissenters, and even influenced the oratorical style of Patrick Henry. Although Davies was a slaveholder, he worked to spread literacy among enslaved people and converted many to Christianity. In 1759 Davies left Virginia to become president of what is now Princeton University. He died in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1761 at age 37.

The Board of Historic Resources approved two markers that highlight 19th-century Virginia:

  • The Great Road was a major route linking the Valley of Virginia to the interior of North America. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark used this road, which passed through the Town of Abingdon, when journeying back to the east after their expedition to the Pacific Ocean (1803-1806). With a group of Native Americans from present-day North Dakota, Lewis traveled through Abingdon on the Great Road in 1806 on his way to report to President Thomas Jefferson. Clark followed separately before reaching Fincastle, Virginia, in 1807 to visit his future wife, Julia Hancock. While on his way from St. Louis for their wedding the following year, Clark passed through Abingdon on the Great Road again. In another journey in 1809, Clark spent a night in November in or near Abingdon, possibly at the William King House.
  • Bred by Richmond attorney John Wickham and foaled in Henrico County in 1833, Boston was a chestnut stallion that became America’s greatest racehorse in an era when thoroughbred racing was the nation’s most popular sport. Boston possessed formidable speed and endurance, though he was also known for his ferocious temperament. Tamed by an enslaved horseman named Ned, Boston trained in the stable of William R. Johnson, known as the “Napoleon of the Turf.” The enslaved jockey Cornelius rode Boston until 1839. Boston won about 40 out of 45 known races—once in front of a crowd of 70,000 people—between 1836 and 1843 on tracks from Georgia to New York. He later went on to become a renowned sire. Boston died in 1850 and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1955 as part of the inaugural class.

 

Following the Board of Historic Resources’ approval of the markers, it can take upwards of eight months or more before a new marker is ready for installation. The marker’s sponsor covers the required $2,880 manufacturing expenses for a new sign.

Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1. It is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 state markers, mostly maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.

 

Full Text of Markers:

(VDOT must approve the proposed locations for each sign or public works in jurisdictions outside VDOT’s authority.)

 James Pawpaw
James Pawpaw, born likely in Africa, developed remedies for a variety of ailments while enslaved in New Kent Co. Among them was a treatment for yaws, a bacterial infection widespread in enslaved communities where poor conditions led to transmission. In 1729 he provided recipes for his medicines to Lt. Gov. William Gooch and the Council of State, who in exchange purchased his freedom for £50 from Frances Littlepage, of nearby Cumberland plantation, and awarded him a £20 yearly pension. Pawpaw’s treatment for yaws was widely published. Attributed to “Dr. Papa,” it appeared in Every Man His Own Doctor, British North America’s first domestic medical manual, printed by Benjamin Franklin and by others.

Sponsor: The Tidewater and Big Bend Foundation
Locality: New Kent County
Proposed Location: New Kent Highway at intersection with Cumberland Road

Calfee Training School
Pulaski Graded School, later renamed Calfee Training School, was built in 1894. The building, which served Black students eventually through grade 11, burned in 1938. With help from Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, faculty members Chauncey Harmon and Willis Gravely petitioned the school board in 1939 for equal facilities and teacher pay. Calfee was rebuilt as an elementary school using Public Works Administration funds, and Black high school students were sent away to Christiansburg Industrial Institute. In Corbin v. County School Board (1949), a federal court ruled that Pulaski’s Black high school students were unlawfully denied equal educational opportunities. Schools were desegregated in 1966.
Sponsor: Calfee Community and Cultural Center Board of Directors
Locality: Town of Pulaski
Proposed Location: 1 Corbin Harmon Drive

Claytor Memorial Clinic
Dr. John B. Claytor Sr. opened the Claytor Memorial Clinic here in honor of his late wife, Roberta, in 1948. Situated in a vibrant Black community, this was one of the first Black, family-owned medical clinics in Southwest Virginia. Urban Renewal, under which the City of Roanoke demolished numerous homes, businesses, and churches between 1955 and the 1990s, hollowed out this and other Black neighborhoods. The city, using eminent domain, planned to acquire the Clinic and other Claytor buildings in the 1970s but never did so, leaving the properties in limbo for years. In 2001 the Claytors initiated legal action that helped inspire limitations on redevelopment authorities and eminent domain.
Sponsor: Mr. Nelson Harris
Locality: City of Roanoke
Proposed Location: 413 Gainsboro Road

The “Dissenters’ Glebe” of the Rev. Samuel Davies
Just west was Polegreen Church’s 18th-century glebe, a farm and residence provided for the benefit of its pastor. Polegreen was a congregation of Presbyterians dissenting from Virginia’s established Church of England. The Rev. Samuel Davies (1723-1761), a leader of the Great Awakening in the South, was Polegreen's first pastor (1748-1759). A powerful orator, he gained converts, founded churches, defended the rights of dissenters, and influenced the oratorical style of Patrick Henry. Although holding at least two people in slavery, he worked to spread literacy among enslaved people, converting many to Christianity. Davies died at the age of 37 while president of what is now Princeton University.
Sponsor: Historic Polegreen Church Foundation
Locality: Hanover County
Proposed Location: 10058 Chamberlayne Road, Mechanicsville

Lewis and Clark on the Great Road
The Great Road, a thoroughfare linking the Valley of Virginia to the interior of North America, passed through Abingdon. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark used this route when returning to the East after their expedition to the Pacific Ocean (1803-06). Lewis, with a group of Native Americans from present-day North Dakota, passed here late in 1806 on his way to report to Pres. Thomas Jefferson. Clark followed separately, reaching Fincastle, VA, in Jan. 1807 to visit his future wife, Julia Hancock. He passed here again on his way from St. Louis for their wedding in Jan. 1808. On an eastward journey in 1809, Clark spent the night of 12 Nov. in or near Abingdon, possibly at the William King House.
Sponsor: Virginia Lewis and Clark Legacy Trail
Locality: Town of Abingdon
Proposed Location: 108 N. Court Street

Boston (1833-1850)
Boston, a chestnut stallion, was America’s most accomplished racehorse in an era when thoroughbred racing was the nation’s most popular sport. Bred by Richmond attorney John Wickham and foaled near here, Boston was known for his vicious temperament as well as his speed and endurance. He was tamed by an enslaved horseman named Ned and trained in the stable of William R. Johnson, known as the “Napoleon of the Turf.” Ridden by the enslaved jockey Cornelius until 1839, Boston won about 40 of 45 known races between 1836 and 1843 on tracks from Georgia to New York, once in front of a crowd of 70,000. Later a renowned sire, he was an inaugural inductee into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.
Sponsor: Becky Francois
Locality: Henrico County
Proposed Location: across from 10431 Patterson Ave.

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