State Historic Boards Approve 6 New Highway Markers

Published January 3, 2024

Virginia Department of Historic Resources
(dhr.virginia.gov)
For Immediate Release
January 3, 2024

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 Essex, Washington, Rockbridge, Loudoun, and Fairfax, and in the city of Virginia Beach—

—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 – The Department of Historic Resources (DHR) has announced six new historical markers coming to roadsides in Virginia. The markers will recall various topics in the state’s history, including the story of a 19th-century Black abolitionist and newspaper editor who served as a legislative leader during the commonwealth’s Reconstruction era; a once-bustling transportation hub and market center forged by the iron industry in Rockbridge County; and a Northern Virginia court case that helped lead to the desegregation of community clubs across the United States in the 20th century.

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved the markers on December 14, 2023, during its quarterly meeting hosted by DHR.

A forthcoming marker in Virginia Beach will highlight the life and work of Willis A. Hodges, who was born in Princess Anne County in 1815 to Charles and Julia Hodges, free people of color. Before the Civil War, Hodges moved between New York and Virginia and became an outspoken abolitionist. In 1847, he cofounded the weekly antislavery newspaper the Ram’s Horn in Brooklyn. After the war, Hodges returned to Princess Anne, where he opened a school and became a Republican Party leader during the Reconstruction era. As the first Black man to win election in Princess Anne County, he served in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-68, where he advocated for racial equality. Hodges also served on the county’s Board of Supervisors and as a keeper of the Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia Beach.

Three newly approved markers focus on Black history in Virginia in the 20th century:

  • In Essex County, the Woman’s Baptist District Missionary Convention opened the Old Folks Home ca. 1909 to provide care for impoverished elderly Black people, some of whom had been enslaved. Supervised by a live-in matron and a trustee board made up of all women, the Old Folks Home offered its residents life essentials as well as burial services. Funded by churches, individual donors, and timber sales, the Home operated for approximately 30 years. It exemplified a nationwide social reform that began in the late 1800s in which charitable groups, often led by women, established residences for the indigent elderly as alternatives to public almshouses. During its years of operation, the Old Folks Home—like other residences for senior Black people—experienced the effects of racism and poverty.

 

  • In Washington County, the Glade Spring School served Black children in grades one through seven starting in 1922. Support for the building’s construction came from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which was created in 1917 after businessman Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington, head of Tuskegee Institute, partnered in a school-building campaign for Black students across the rural South. Glade Spring, which replaced a deteriorated 19th-century structure, was the only Rosenwald school in Washington County. Meredith Stuart, who was born in the Town of Glade Spring and attended Tuskegee under Washington’s leadership, taught at the school. In 1965, Glade Spring closed after the county desegregated its public schools. The building was then used as a community center.

 

  • Paul Sullivan rented a house in Fairfax County to Theodore R. Freeman Jr. in 1965. As part of the lease, Sullivan attempted to transfer a Little Hunting Park (LHP) membership to Freeman. However, the LHP board denied the transfer in part because the Freeman family was African American. Sullivan’s membership was also revoked by the board after he launched a spirited campaign of protest. In 1966, both the Sullivan and Freeman families filed a lawsuit, but lost several appeals. In December 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sullivan v. LHP that excluding African Americans was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and thus constituted illegal housing discrimination. The case, along with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, led to the desegregation of recreational clubs in communities across the United States.

 

Transportation history grounds two new markers:

  • The former town of Cedar Grove in Rockbridge County became a transportation hub and market center by the 1830s. Located at the head of small-boat navigation on the Maury (North) River, the community grew along with the region’s iron industry, which played an important role in Virginia’s economic development. When water conditions permitted, enslaved and free workers used river boats known as bateaux to transport iron from local furnaces and forges, as well as flour and other goods, to Lynchburg and Richmond. Cedar Grove was served by two toll roads and included mercantile stores, a gristmill, warehouses, and a post office. The town was abandoned after the local iron industry declined in the later 1800s and the river fell out of use.

 

  • Built in Cleveland, Ohio, by Variety Iron Works in 1889, the pin-connected Pratt truss bridge now known as the John G. Lewis Memorial Bridge was installed for service in 1890 on Virginia’s Leesburg and Alexandria Turnpike, present-day Route 7, in Loudoun County. In 1932, the bridge was relocated to Featherbed Lane over Catoctin Creek. Standing at 159 feet, the structure is among the longest metal truss bridges still in use in the state. In 1974, local organizations rallied to preserve the bridge. With the support of the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition, the bridge was again protected in 2015, the year the community named it for local preservationist John G. Lewis, who documented more than 700 historic structures in the region.

 

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 location for each sign in its right-of-way; local public works departments must do so in jurisdictions outside VDOT’s authority.)

Willis Augustus Hodges (1815-1890)
Willis A. Hodges was born in Princess Anne County to Charles and Julia Hodges, free people of color. He moved between New York and Virginia before the Civil War and became an outspoken abolitionist, cofounding the weekly antislavery newspaper the Ram’s Horn in Brooklyn in 1847. In Princess Anne after the war, he opened a school and was a Republican Party leader. The first Black man to win an election in the county, he served in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-68, where he was among the most prominent of its 24 Black members and advocated racial equality. Hodges served two terms on the county Board of Supervisors and was a keeper of the Cape Henry Lighthouse.
Sponsor: Edna Hendrix
Locality: City of Virginia Beach
Proposed Location: near intersection of Singleton Way and S. Witchduck Road

The Old Folks Home
The Woman’s Baptist District Missionary Convention conceived the Old Folks Home in 1894 and opened it here ca. 1909 to care for aged, destitute Black people, some of whom had been enslaved. Under the supervision of a live-in matron and an all-woman trustee board, residents were afforded life essentials as well as burial. Churches, individual donors, and timber sales provided funds for the Home, which operated for about 30 years. The Home exemplified a nationwide social reform that began late in the 1800s as charitable groups, often led by women, founded residences for the indigent elderly as alternatives to public almshouses. Homes serving Black elders coped with the ills of racism and poverty.
Sponsor: Southside Rappahannock Baptist Association
Locality: Essex County
Proposed Location: U.S. Route 17 (Tidewater Trail), 0.2 miles north of Route 610 (Boston Road), Dunnsville

Glade Spring School
Glade Spring School was built here in 1921-22 to serve Black children in grades 1-7. This building replaced a deteriorated 19th-century structure. Support for its construction came in part from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, created in 1917 after Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington, head of Tuskegee Institute, had partnered in a school-building campaign. This fund helped construct about 5,000 schools for Black students across the rural South; Glade Spring was the only one of these in Washington Co. Meredith Stuart, born in Glade Spring, attended Tuskegee under Washington’s leadership and taught here. The school closed in 1965 when the county’s schools were desegregated and became a community center.
Sponsor: Remember Us
Locality: Washington County
Proposed Location: Intersection of Crescent Drive (91) and Azalea Drive, Glade Spring

Cedar Grove
Here at the head of small-boat navigation on the Maury (North) River, Cedar Grove had become a transportation hub and market center by the 1830s. The community grew along with the region’s iron industry, which played an important role in Virginia’s economic development. When water conditions permitted, enslaved and free boatmen used bateaux to transport iron from local furnaces and forges, as well as flour and other goods, to Lynchburg and Richmond. Served by two toll roads, Cedar Grove featured mercantile stores, a gristmill, warehouses, and a post office. The decline of the local iron industry later in the 1800s and disuse of the river for transportation led to the town’s abandonment.
Sponsor: Donald and Diana Hopkins
Locality: Rockbridge County
Proposed Location: 3795 Maury River Road, Rockbridge Baths

John G. Lewis Memorial Bridge
This pin-connected Pratt truss bridge was fabricated in Cleveland, OH, during the period when such bridges were in wide use (1875-1920). It was erected in 1890 on the Leesburg and Alexandria Turnpike, present-day Route 7. In 1932, the bridge was relocated to Featherbed Lane over Catoctin Creek, half a mile west of here. At 159 feet, it is among the longest metal truss bridges in use in VA. Local organizations rallied to preserve it in 1974. Supported by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition, the community again protected it in 2015. That year the bridge was named for local preservationist John G. Lewis, who documented more than 700 historic structures in the region.
Sponsor: David Nelson
Locality: Loudoun County
Proposed Location: Loyalty Road (Route 665) at intersection with Featherbed Lane

Desegregation of Community Clubs
In 1965, Paul Sullivan rented a house to Theodore R. Freeman Jr. and transferred a Little Hunting Park (LHP) membership as part of the lease. The LHP board denied the transfer in part because the Freeman family was African American. After Sullivan mounted a vigorous campaign of protest, the board also revoked his membership. Both families filed a lawsuit in 1966 and lost several appeals. In Dec. 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sullivan v. LHP that the exclusion of African Americans was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and thus constituted illegal housing discrimination. This case, along with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, desegregated recreational associations across the U.S.
Sponsor: DHR
Locality: Fairfax County
Proposed Location: at Little Hunting Park

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