Newly-elected to the Charles Town City Council, Pricilla Rodd has been quick to push the City to take action on an issue she raised during her recent campaign — to focus on projects that support tourism. She pointed to the efforts of George C. Rutherford and the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society as a prime example of how the city’s rich history can be key to attracting visitors and is excited that the City is supporting the launch of the new Charles Town African American History Audio Tour.
The tour consists of nine locations. Stop 1 is the County Courthouse, where the tour highlights the five black abolitionists who accompanied John Brown on his pre-Civil War raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal. Records from 1860 attest that there were 511 free persons of color and 3,960 enslaved persons — together amounting to nearly a third of the county’s total population. Stop 2 is the Webb-Blessing house, which was built prior to 1830 and is one of the earliest stone buildings in the state built and owned by free black persons; in the 1940s and 1950s Ollie Blessing operated a lending library in the building to serve black children who could not use the public library. Stop 3 is Potter’s Field, containing the graves of hundreds of black persons buried between 1833 and 1875. Stop 4 is the Gibson-Todd house, built on the site where John Brown and several of his comrades were hanged, including John Copeland Jr. and Shields Green, both free black men. Stop 5 is noted as “African American Churches” which discusses the numerous black neighborhoods and communities (including “Potato Hill” that sprung up around the city after the Civil War. Stop 6 is Locke House (Star Lodge #1), a gathering space for black veterans of World War I. Stop 7 marks the Southwest Business District, the location of a concentration of black-owned businesses that flourished from the 1900s into the 1970s. Stop 8 is Evitts Run and Potato Hill, marking a black community on the west side of the city. Stop 9 is the Mosaic Wall on North Charles Street.
The tour is designed to be self-guided and can be experienced on foot or by vehicle. Materials and a guide to accessing the tour will be found at City Hall and at Bushel & Peck (with additional guide locations to come in the future).
The new tour will officially launch on Wednesday, August 16, to coincide with the Jefferson County African American Heritage Festival, which begins the next day (Aug 17). The first tour will start with a reception at Charles Town City Hall from 6:00 to 6:30 pm. The walking tour will start at 6:30, after the reception. Admission to both events is free and participants can walk the entire 2 mile route or join the tour by vehicle at each stop.
Information about the tour will be available on the City’s website (CharlesTownWV.us). Information about the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society, including a county-wide heritage tour and other history resources, is available at JCBlackHistory.org.By Staff Contributor