(Above) The Mount Zion Freewill Baptist Church, built in 1898, stands near the Johnstown community which was established in 1848 as a free Black community organized by descendants of the Johnson family who first settled in the area in 1732 after departing Northampton County, Virginia.
The railroads we see around Jefferson County never cease to fascinate me and Harriet (and our dogs). While there is a sense of permanence in these structures of steel, stone and wood, many of these buildings have evolved or been transformed through time. For example, the Harpers Ferry station was moved, intact, several hundred yards from its original location and the Martinsburg hotel/station building is a seamless blend of historic and modern. It reminds us of a rhythm that has existed for centuries — both enduring and changing.
I stumbled upon Mt. Zion church (above) when researching another article last year and noted the pre-Civil war date for the Johnstown community on the informational marker. When I did some further research, I was surprised to find a history of a small number of free Black settlers in Jefferson County dating to the early 1730s, concurrent with the earliest settlers of European descent — a fact that I hadn’t seen before in the popular historical accounts.
I connected with Eileen Berger of Just Lookin’ Gallery in a similarly accidental fashion, looking for artists whose work was affected by the events of 2020. Reading through their bios and statements, it struck me that “remembering” history also includes the deliberate act of preserving the present for the future.
As we proceed through the decade of the 2020s, our conversations about the balance we strike between permanence and change will determine what track our history takes.By Steve Pearson