—Proposed markers cover topics in the counties of Campbell, Clarke, Fauquier (2), Greene, Hanover, King George, Montgomery, New Kent, Scott, and Shenandoah; and the cities of Harrisonburg, Lynchburg, Roanoke (2), and Suffolk —
Topics covered in sixteen proposed historical markers currently pending approval include the lynching of an African American woman in the Shenandoah Valley, a nationally noteworthy rescue squad in Roanoke, and early 20th-century initiatives to improve educational opportunities in African American and in isolated Blue Ridge Mountain communities.
The Virginia Board of Historic Resources, authorized to approve new markers, was to have considered the proposed marker texts during its quarterly meeting in March, which DHR cancelled due to the coronavirus threat.
Slated for Harrisonburg, a proposed marker recalls the lynching of Charlotte Harris, an African American accused of inciting a young black man, later acquitted, of burning the barn of a white farmer. On March 6, 1878, about a dozen disguised individuals seized Harris from the custody of jailers in eastern Rockingham County and hanged her from a tree. The only documented lynching of a black woman in Virginia, where more than 100 lynchings were recorded between 1877 and 1950, Harris’s murder drew national attention. A grand jury failed to identify any of the people who lynched Harris.
The proposed “Roanoke Life Saving and First Aid Crew” marker highlights the formation in May 1928 of the nation’s first independent, all-volunteer rescue squad. Members of Roanoke Life Saving helped organize rescue squads across Virginia and beyond.
Five proposed signs focus on education in Virginia during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Three of the five markers are about African American schools, including two affiliated with the Julius Rosenwald Fund, one of the most successful programs to support universal schooling for black students during the era of segregation. The fund provided building plans and money to leverage other private and public funds to construct more than 5,000 black schools throughout the South, with more than 380 Rosenwalds constructed in Virginia.
Two other markers deal with educational initiatives:
Of the nine other markers, two touch largely on colonial-era history:
Three markers highlight 19th-century history in Virginia:
The post-Civil War origins of three communities is the focus of two signs:
Two markers highlight notable cemeteries:
Twentieth-century history is the domain of two other markers pending approval:
Full Text of Markers:
(The proposed locations for each sign must be approved in consultation with VDOT or public works in jurisdictions outside VDOT authority.)
Blue Ridge School
The Episcopal Church opened Blue Ridge School here in 1910 for children from mountain communities who had minimal access to education. Led by the Rev. George P. Mayo, the school became the centerpiece of an extensive network of Episcopal missions that served several counties in this region. The campus includes two buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Gibson Memorial Chapel (1932) and the Martha Bagby Battle House (1934). The former was designed by Ralph Adams Cram, one of the most prominent American architects of his era. Blue Ridge School closed in 1961 but reopened in 1962 with a new mission as a college preparatory boarding school for boys.
Sponsor: Blue Ridge School
Locality: Greene County
Proposed Location: Route 627 (Bacon Hollow Road), St. George, VA
The African American community of Bristow originated in 1869 when Brister (or Bristol) Holmes purchased land near here. A public school (ca. 1883) and Bethel Baptist Church (ca. 1928) became centers of community life. Emancipated African Americans, exercising their newfound autonomy, established or settled in nearly 20 villages across Clarke County after the Civil War. Almost half of Clarke’s population had been enslaved in 1860, a much higher percentage than in other Shenandoah Valley counties, reflecting this area’s Tidewater-style plantation economy. Freedom for African Americans therefore led to a substantial reconfiguration of the county’s settlement patterns and built environment.
Sponsor: Jim Caldwell
Locality: Clarke County
Proposed Location: Near intersection of Shepherds Mill and Castleman Roads
Burrell Memorial Hospital
Five African American physicians opened Burrell Memorial Hospital in a house at 311 Henry St. in March 1915. They named it in honor of their colleague Dr. Isaac D. Burrell, who had died in 1914 after traveling by train to undergo surgery in Washington, D.C., as local hospitals treated only whites. Burrell Memorial, which became the region’s largest medical facility for black patients, moved into a former school on this site in 1921 and occupied a new building here in 1955. The hospital’s nursing school prepared African Americans for careers as registered nurses before closing in the 1930s. A school for practical nurses opened here in the 1950s. Burrell Memorial Hospital closed in 1978.
Sponsor: Nelson Harris
Locality: City of Roanoke
Proposed Location: 611 McDowell Avenue
Campbell County Training School
Campbell County Training School (CCTS) opened here ca. 1923 after African American citizens campaigned for better schools. The black community, the county, and the Julius Rosenwald Fund paid for its construction. Rosenwald, inspired by the work of Booker T. Washington, helped build more than 5,000 schools for black students. The Rev. Thomas Tweedy and Gabe Hunt are recognized as major local contributors to CCTS, which provided the county’s first two-year high school program for African Americans and later included a teacher cottage, cafeteria, shop, and auditorium. In 1951 a new CCTS opened nearby. Named Campbell County High School in 1952, it closed in 1969 when desegregation was completed.
Sponsor: The Campbell County Training School Complex Committee
Locality: Campbell County
Proposed Location: 1470 Village Highway, Rustburg
Charlotte Harris Lynched, 6 March 1878
About a dozen disguised people took Charlotte Harris from the custody of jailers in eastern Rockingham County on the night of 6 March 1878 and hanged her from a tree approximately 13 miles southeast of here. This is the only documented lynching of an African American woman in Virginia, and it received nationwide attention. A grand jury that met here failed to identify any of the lynchers. Harris had been accused of inciting a young African American man to burn the barn of a white farmer. This man was later acquitted on all charges. More than 4,000 lynchings took place in the United States between 1877 and 1950; more than 100 people, primarily African American men, were lynched in Virginia.
Sponsor: Northeast Neighborhood Association (NENA)
Proposed Location: Court Square
Crittenden and Eclipse
The villages of Crittenden and Eclipse, just northeast of here, emerged as Virginia’s commercial oyster industry was expanding in the latter part of the 19th century. Early residents included watermen and boatbuilders from the North who were attracted by the rich oyster beds of the lower James River. In the 1890s, Lepron Johnson established Johnson Marine Railway, one of many boatbuilding yards employing local skilled craftsmen. Watermen harvested oysters, fish, crabs, and clams. Oysters, sold directly to “buyboats,” were transported to processing houses and marketed across North America. The oyster trade began to decline in the 1950s, but the tradition of oystering and crabbing survives.
Sponsor: Suffolk River Heritage, Inc.
Proposed Location: U.S. Highway 17 N near intersection with Eclipse Drive
The Episcopal Church of Leeds Parish
Leeds Parish was formed in 1769 largely within the Manor of Leeds, an estate that Thomas, 6th Lord Fairfax, carved out of his Northern Neck Proprietary and named for his birthplace, Leeds Castle in England. The parish’s first rector was the Rev. James Thomson, who lived in the household of vestryman Thomas Marshall for a year and tutored his son, John Marshall, later Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Bishop William Meade consecrated the Gothic Revival parish church here in 1842. Interred in the cemetery is James M. M. Ambler, U.S. Navy surgeon, who perished in Siberia while attempting to save his colleagues during the ill-fated expedition of the USS Jeannette to the Arctic in 1881.
Sponsor: The Episcopal Church of Leeds Parish
Locality: Fauquier County
Proposed Location: 4347 Leeds Manor Road
Fauquier White Sulphur Springs
Fauquier White Sulphur Springs, just west of here, was among the most prominent mineral water resorts in the South before the Civil War. Developed in the 1830s to accommodate hundreds of guests, the resort attracted U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, foreign visitors, and elite families seeking medicinal waters and fashionable society. The Virginia General Assembly met here in 1849. The resort employed free white and African American workers and also relied on enslaved laborers. A Civil War battle in Aug. 1862 left the facilities in ruins. Rebuilt after the war, the resort closed in 1901 when its main hotel burned. Fauquier Springs Country Club opened here in 1957.
Sponsor: Fauquier Springs Country Club
Locality: Fauquier County
Proposed Location: Springs Road just north of intersection with Springs Drive
John Chilembwe (ca. 1871-1915)
John Chilembwe was the leader, in 1915, of the first major African uprising against colonial authorities in the British Protectorate of Nyasaland (Malawi). Chilembwe had come to Lynchburg in 1897 to study at Virginia Seminary under its president, Gregory Hayes. He returned to Africa by 1900 and set up Providence Industrial Mission before launching the revolt of 1915. A military patrol shot and killed Chilembwe on 3 Feb. 1915. The British Official Commission asserted that a main cause of the revolt had been Chilembwe’s education in the United States. Malawi, where Chilembwe remains a symbol of liberation, became independent in 1964. John Chilembwe Day is celebrated annually on 15 Jan.
Sponsor: University of Lynchburg
Proposed Location: Virginia University of Lynchburg campus
New Kent Ordinary
A tavern was likely constructed near this site in the 1690s, when New Kent’s county seat was moved here. The present ordinary, built ca. 1736, belonged to the prominent Bassett family until 1859 but was often leased to innkeepers who managed the business. Sometimes referred to as Warren’s Tavern, the ordinary accommodated visitors on busy court days. Situated on the main road to Williamsburg, it was a stopping place for military and government officials, including Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Tyler. The ordinary, reconfigured in the 19th century and restored in 1964, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sponsor: New Kent Historical Society
Locality: New Kent County
Proposed Location: 12000 New Kent Highway
Prospect Public School
Prospect School, for six decades Scott County’s only public school for African Americans, moved into a new building 1.5 miles northwest of here ca. 1919. Contributions for the two-room school came from the black community ($1,200), the county ($600), and the Julius Rosenwald Fund ($500). This fund, created by the president of Sears, Roebuck, and Co. and inspired by the work of Booker T. Washington, helped build more than 5,000 schools for black children in the South and supported two additions to Prospect in the 1920s. The school offered grades 1-7; black students who sought further education had to leave the county. Prospect School closed in 1965 with desegregation and was later demolished.
Sponsor: Prospect School Alumni
Locality: Scott County
Proposed Location: U.S. Hwy 23, west of intersection with 432/23/58, Gate City
Roanoke Life Saving and First Aid Crew
The Roanoke Life Saving and First Aid Crew, organized in May 1928 by Julian Stanley Wise, is recognized as the first independent, all-volunteer rescue squad in the United States. Wise, motivated by having seen two men drown in the Roanoke River during his childhood, was later president of the International Rescue and First Aid Association. Roanoke Life Saving received an ambulance from John M. Oakey Funeral Service and operated from Oakey’s properties on Kirk Ave. and here on Luck Ave. before moving to Day Ave. Members helped organize rescue squads across Virginia and beyond. In 1989, the squad merged with the Williamson Road Life Saving Crew and became Roanoke Emergency Medical Services.
Sponsor: Nelson Harris
Locality: City of Roanoke
Proposed Location: 321 Luck Avenue
Spy Hill African American Cemetery
John Washington, great-grandfather of George Washington, acquired the plantation later known as Spy Hill by 1675 and left it to his son Lawrence, grandfather of the president. The property passed from the Washington family to Col. Thomas B. B. Baber in 1828. Enslaved African Americans who labored at Spy Hill were buried in a cemetery established here by the mid-19th century. After emancipation, the black community continued to use the cemetery until the mid-20th century. Although more than a hundred people are interred here, including members of the Gray, Jackson, Lucas, Peyton, Thompson, and Washington families, few grave markers survive.
Sponsor: Blanche M. Simmons
Locality: King George County
Proposed Location: Rte. 218
Studley plantation, established ca. 1720, was the home of John Syme, Scottish immigrant and member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. Syme died ca. 1731 and presumably was buried at Studley. His widow, Sarah Winston Syme, married John Henry and gave birth to Patrick Henry here in 1736. Although the cemetery contains many graves, the only marker is that of Thomas Chrystie (d. 1812), a surgeon in the Virginia State Navy and the Continental Line during the Revolutionary War. Also interred here are Judge Peter Lyons (d. 1809), president of the Virginia Court of Appeals, and William H. Roane (d. 1845), grandson of Patrick Henry and member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.
Sponsor: Historic Polegreen Church Foundation
Locality: Hanover County
Proposed Location: at end of Studley Farms Drive
Sunset Hill School
The Queen Street School, one of the first schools in Shenandoah County for African Americans, had opened in Strasburg by 1875. After a fire in 1929, a new school known as Sunset Hill was built here ca. 1930 to serve grades 1-7. Because the county had no high school for African American students, graduates had to go elsewhere to attend higher grades. African American residents petitioned for better facilities, and the school board considered building a new segregated elementary school as late as 1962, eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that public school segregation was unconstitutional. Sunset Hill closed in 1964 when Shenandoah County schools were fully desegregated.
Sponsor: Queen Street-Sunset Hill Alumni
Locality: Town of Strasburg
Proposed Location: 348 Sunset Street, Strasburg
Virginia 4-H State Congress
Virginia’s first annual 4-H Boys’ and Girls’ State Short Course was held in Aug. 1919 on the campus of Virginia Tech. The weeklong event provided instruction in agriculture and home economics to 167 young people from 39 counties. An annual short course for African American youth began at Hampton Institute in Aug. 1923 and moved to Virginia State College in 1931. The course was desegregated in 1966 and became known as Virginia 4-H State Congress in 1967. The premier event for Virginia’s 4-H participants, its mission is to instill life skills and leadership abilities by providing competitive and non-competitive educational experiences.
Sponsor: Virginia 4-H Program
Proposed Location: Southgate Drive, near interchange of Rte. 314 and US 460
Originally posted: March 26, 2020
Updated: August 31, 2020