Virginia approves 11 new state historical markers

RICHMOND, Va. – Among eleven new historical highway markers approved by the commonwealth are some intriguing stories that give a glimpse into the rich history of Virginia.

According to a press release from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, now on Virginia roads will be signs that highlight a diplomat who helped 1,200 Jews escape the Holocaust, a top-secret Army post that intercepted radio transmissions during World War II, the church where George Washington served on the vestry, and a 19th-century educator and reformer, Margaret Mercer.

To finish out the list are four other markers that will commemorate individual religious buildings in Virginia.

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources authorized these new markers during its public quarterly meeting on March 15.

The manufacturing cost of each new highway marker is covered by its sponsor.

More information about the Historical Highway Marker Program is available on the website of the Department of Historic Resources here. 

List of historical markers, sponsors and history of the markers: 

Belmont Chapel

Margaret Mercer (1791-1846), educator and reformer, purchased Belmont plantation in 1836. Here she ran a prominent academy for young women, waiving tuition for those unable to afford it. Best known for advocating the liberation of enslaved African Americans and promoting their resettlement in Liberia, Mercer also gained recognition for her book Popular Lectures on Ethics (1841). She commissioned the construction of Belmont Chapel, which opened here by 1841. The chapel hosted Episcopal services and a Sunday school at which African Americans were educated alongside whites. Long an important community center, the chapel burned in the 1960s. St. David’s Episcopal Church opened here in 1990.

Sponsor: St. David’s Episcopal Church and School
Locality: Loudoun County
Proposed Location: 43600 Russell Branch Pkwy.
Sponsor Contact: Ken Courter, marketing@sdlife.org

Bethlehem Baptist Church
This congregation traces its origins to services led by Samuel K. Taylor (ca. 1836-1912), an enslaved preacher who escaped from a plantation in Caroline County during the Civil War. He preached in private homes here in Gum Springs and, after the war, erected the first African American church on Fairfax County’s segment of the Potomac Path, an old Indian trail and forerunner of U.S. Route 1. The sanctuary, built with lumber from dismantled Union army stables, also housed a school. The congregation erected a new sanctuary in 1884 and in 1930 built a brick church that hosted meetings of the local NAACP chapter and other organizations. The present sanctuary, built next door, opened in 1993.

Sponsor: Gum Springs Historical Society
Locality: Fairfax County
Proposed Location: 7836 Fordson Road
Sponsor Contact: Ronald Chase, gshsfcva@gmail.com and Tina Lucas, tina.m.lucas1@gmail.com

First Baptist Church
This church, home to one of the oldest continuous congregations organized by African Americans, traces its origins to brush arbor meetings held by 1776 at a nearby plantation. The congregation moved to a Williamsburg carriage house and in 1856 completed a brick sanctuary on Nassau Street. A school for black students opened there in the 1860s. The Rev. John Dawson, longtime pastor, served in the Senate of Virginia from 1874 to 1877. First Baptist moved into its sanctuary here in 1956. During the Civil Rights era, the Rev. David Collins led demonstrations for fair hiring practices and joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke here in 1962.

Sponsor: First Baptist Church
Locality: Williamsburg
Proposed Location: 727 Scotland St.
Sponsor Contact: David Lewes, dwlewe@wm.edu

James Rives Childs (1893-1987)
Diplomat and author J. Rives Childs lived here in his youth. During World War I, he served in the U.S. Army as a code breaker in France. After working for the American Relief Administration in the Balkans and the Soviet Union, he began a 30-year diplomatic career in 1923. During World War II, as chargé d’affaires at the American Legation in Tangier, Morocco, Childs helped 1,200 Hungarian Jews obtain entry visas for Spanish Morocco and escape the Holocaust. He received the Medal of Freedom in 1946. Childs was later U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. He wrote the textbook American Foreign Service (1948) and was an authority on 18th-century scholar and adventurer Giacomo Casanova.

Sponsor: Jane Baber White
Locality: Lynchburg
Proposed Location: 911 Rivermont Ave.
Sponsor Contact: Jane Baber White, janebaberwhite@gmail.com

Megginson Rosenwald School

The Megginson School was built here ca. 1923 for African American students in the Pleasant Valley community, then part of Campbell County. Albert Megginson (1831-1923), formerly enslaved, purchased land in this area after the Civil War and later donated two acres for the school. The two-classroom building was constructed with financial support from local African Americans, the county, and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which helped build more than 5,000 schools and supporting structures for black students in the rural South between 1917 and 1932. African American resident Wiley Gaines purchased school buses that transported students to this and other local segregated schools.

Sponsor: Cynthia E. Gaines
Locality: Lynchburg
Proposed Location: 136 Spinoza Circle
Sponsor Contact: Cynthia Gaines, Cynthia.Gaines@dhp.virginia.gov

Reedy Creek Baptist Church

By 1772, Zachariah Thompson, a Baptist minister based in North Carolina, had founded a church here on Reedy Creek. This is the oldest-continuing Baptist church in Brunswick County. Members later helped organize a number of other congregations in the region. Before the Civil War, many enslaved African Americans were accepted as members of Reedy Creek but worshiped from the balcony. A cemetery was established here early in the 20th century, and the present sanctuary opened in 1956. Remains of the original church exist on the property.

Sponsor: Reedy Creek Baptist Church
Locality: Brunswick County
Proposed Location: 1949 Reedy Creek Road
Sponsor Contact: Chad Patton, Chad.Patton@southside.edu

Skirmish at Kemp’s Landing
Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, led a detachment of the British 14th Regiment to this area on 15 Nov. 1775 to disrupt militiamen forming in resistance to royal authority. The Princess Anne militia, waiting in a thicket, fired on the British advance guard. Heavy return fire scattered the militia and killed several men. Dunmore’s force, augmented by African American volunteers who had escaped from slavery, took a number of prisoners, including Col. Joseph Hutchings. The emboldened Dunmore issued a proclamation declaring martial law and offering freedom to slaves willing to fight for the king. Many militiamen and others subsequently signed oaths of loyalty to the Crown.

Sponsor: Christopher Pieczynski
Locality: Virginia Beach
Proposed Location: corner of South Witchduck Road and Singleton Way
Sponsor Contact: Chris Pieczynski; Christopher.Pieczynski@gmail.com

Third Baptist Church
Alexandria, occupied by Union troops in 1861, attracted many African Americans escaping slavery. In Jan. 1864, a group of formerly enslaved people organized Third Freedmen’s Baptist Church (later Third Baptist Church). The congregation moved to this site in 1865 and built its Romanesque Revival sanctuary in the 1890s. The church’s first minister was the Rev. George Washington Parker (ca. 1832-1873), who had been free before the Civil War. He worked with the Rev. Clement Robinson to start the First Select Colored School in 1862, was a local Republican Party leader during Reconstruction, and was the first African American member of the Alexandria Common Council.

Sponsor: Third Baptist Church
Locality: Alexandria
Proposed Location: 917 Princess St.
Sponsor Contact: McArthur Myers, Alexslim62@comcast.net

Vint Hill Farms Station
In June 1942 the U.S. Army established a top-secret post at Vint Hill Farms to intercept enemy radio transmissions. These barns housed the monitoring station. The Signal Corps’ cryptographic school, which taught personnel to encode, decode, and translate messages, was moved here. Pvt. Leonard A. Mudloff is credited with intercepting a message here from Oshima Hiroshi, the Japanese ambassador to Germany, on 10 Nov. 1943. It described German coastal fortifications in western France, troop strengths, and contingency plans. The “Oshima intercept” was a crucial contribution to the planning for D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe. The post operated through the Cold War, closing in 1997.

Sponsor: Julie Broaddus
Locality: Fauquier County
Proposed Location: Farm Station Road northwest of intersection with Lineweaver Road
Sponsor Contact: Julie Broaddus, julie@oldbusthead.com

Walnut Grove Plantation
Col. Robert Preston (1750-1833) acquired 720 acres here in the 1780s and established Walnut Grove. Preston had emigrated from Ireland in 1773 and worked as assistant surveyor under his relative William Preston, who laid out vast areas of western Virginia. During the Revolutionary War, Robert Preston joined expeditions against the Cherokee and Loyalists. Gov. Thomas Jefferson appointed him the first surveyor of Washington County in 1779. Preston’s frame house, built here ca. 1800, is among the county’s oldest. By the 1830s about 30 enslaved African Americans were laboring on his land. William Clark, of Lewis and Clark, breakfasted at the home of Preston’s son John at Walnut Grove in 1809.

Sponsor: Bristol Historical Association
Locality: Bristol
Proposed Location: Lee Highway (Route 11), just east of Route 5300
Sponsor Contact: Tim Buchanan, Buchanan03@bvunet.net

The Washingtons at Pohick Church

George Washington, like his father before him, served on the vestry of Truro Parish, which the Virginia General Assembly established in 1732. Colonial vestries managed parish affairs and provided crucial services to the community, including care for widows, orphans, the poor, and the sick. Washington served several terms as church warden and is credited with leading the effort to replace the old Pohick Church, about two miles south, with a new building that opened here in 1774. He donated furnishings to the church and attended services here with his wife, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, a devout Anglican. Their home, Mount Vernon, is six miles to the east.

Sponsor: Mary Elizabeth Conover Foundation, Inc.
Locality: Fairfax County
Proposed Location: 9301 Richmond Highway, Lorton
Sponsor Contact: Larry Nelson, strategicalliances@conoversystems.org