February is Black History Month – a celebration of Black achievement and the enormous role African Americans have played in shaping U.S. history. The influence of African Americans in Loudoun has been just as pronounced. Here we look at five Loudoun towns and villages and the influence Black residents have had on their character and development. We also profile several dynamic Black Loudoun entrepeneurs who are helping drive the commerce and creativity of DC’s Wine Country® today.
LeesburgBack to Top of List
Famous for its picturesque streets, handsome architecture and stylish bars and restaurants, county seat Leesburg is also a treasure trove of African American history easily accessible to the visitor. The Thomas Balch Library, a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site built in 1922, documents the history and genealogy of the county, including the African American experience. It has a reading room named for Howard Clark, co-founder of the Loudoun County Emancipation Association. In the heart of town is Loudoun County Courthouse, another Railroad Network to Freedom site. In 1933, Charles Hamilton Houston became the first African American attorney to argue a major case in a Southern courtroom here, earning him the sobriquet “The man who killed Jim Crow.” Visit Leesburg.gov to download the Leesburg African American History walking tour app to learn more.
MiddleburgBack to Top of List
Middleburg has had a significant African American presence since its founding in 1787. To do a walking tour, start at the Pink Box Visitor Center on N. Madison Street, which features a collection of photographs depicting the Middleburg African American community from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. Diagonal to it is John Wesley Wanzer's blacksmith shop. Wanzer helped organize the local branch of the NAACP and was a member of the County-Wide League, which sought equal educational rights for African Americans in Loudoun public schools. Travel east on Washington Street and you will pass many homes and businesses built by African American contractor William Nathaniel Hall, the largest general contractor in Loudoun. Turn left on Jay Street and at the intersection of Jay and Marshall is the community historically known as Bureau Corner, named in reference to the Freedman's Bureau located in the log portion of the Hansborough House. Anchoring it is the Asbury Methodist Church built in 1829 and transferred to the African American congregants in 1864.
PurcellvilleBack to Top of List
After the Civil War, G Street, south of East Main, became a thriving African American neighborhood. In 1879 African American icon Frederick Douglass – social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman – spoke to a crowd of 2,000 near here, the site of what is today’s Bush Tabernacle. In 1910 the neighborhood expanded when the Loudoun County Emancipation Association bought 10 acres at A Street and 20th, establishing Lincoln Park. Baseball fields, a tabernacle and horse and colt show sprung up. In 1948 Purcellville’s first elementary school for African Americans (today’s Carver Senior Center) was built. Purcellville’s most famous son could be choreographer Billy Pierce (1890-1933), who went on to establish his own dance school on Broadway in New York City, taught Fred Astaire and helped inspire the Harlem Renaissance. He is credited with inventing the Black Bottom dance that would surpass the Charleston for popularity in the Roaring Twenties.
WaterfordBack to Top of List
Founded by Quakers in 1733, Waterford was home to many freedmen as early as the turn of the 19th Century. Waterford sided with the Union in the Civil War, establishing the Loudoun Rangers cavalry unit, which fought with the North. At least one Waterford freedman, Daniel Minor, enlisted; others joined different Union regiments. In 1866, a local Quaker sold property on Second Street to “the colored people of Waterford and vicinity,” who established a one-room schoolhouse and church, which operated until 1957. Today the school is part of the Waterford Foundation’s Second Street School Living History Program for fourth grade visitors. On Bond Street, African Americans built the John Wesley Church in 1892 opposite Janney’s Mill. It still stands and is slated to become a museum for the Loudoun Freedom Center. Visit the Waterford Foundation in the Old School building on Fairfax Street to pick up a copy of “Share with Us, Waterford, Virginia’s African-American Experience” by renowned local author Bronwen Souders.
LincolnBack to Top of List
Picture-postcard Lincoln on Route 722 south of Purcellville may be tiny, but it loomed large in the struggle for emancipation. Settled in the 1740s by Waterford and Pennsylvania Quakers and initially named Goose Creek, the town led a “spiritual crusade” against slavery from the late 1700s, hosting anti-slavery discussions in the 1765-built stone Meeting House at the south side of the village, which still stands today. In the 1820s Black children living on Quaker farms attended school with whites at the Goose Creek Friends Schoolhouse – the first instance of school desegregation in Loudoun. In 1827, the town hosted the first statewide convention for the abolition of slavery. After the Civil War, Goose Creek was renamed for President Lincoln and the first public elementary school for African Americans – Janney's School – was built. In 1879 Mount Olive Baptist Church was established. It still has an active congregation today. The wider Goose Creek Historic District is listed on the National Register Historic Places.
African American EntrepreneursBack to Top of List
Black entrepreneurs – chefs, bakers, hoteliers, boutique owners, tour company founders – are helping drive the commercial and creative dynamism of Loudoun today.
Look for these businesses on your next visit to Loudoun
Jamaican born master baker Godfrey McKenzie and his wife Tatiana opened the quirkily named Dolce & Ciabatta in the King’s Corner retail center on Leesburg’s Catoctin Circle in 2018. Pick up everything from baguettes and croissants to decadent cream cakes at the sweet-smelling emporium.
Need a Southern soul food fix? In December, Lovettsville residents Sybil and Mark Terry opened the down home and delicious Soul Food Sensations. Head here for fried chicken, meatloaf, catfish, country fried steak and other classics inspired by the Southern culinary traditions Sybil learned as a young girl watching her father during cookouts.
African American military veteran Renee Ventrice and husband Don founded Cork & Keg Tours in 2016, inspired by the bespoke guided wine tours she and her husband had taken in Sonoma, CA. A WSET2 certified wine educator, Ventrice customizes each tour, choosing the wine, wineries and restaurants to visit based on the express personal preferences of her clients. Cork & Keg were listed as one of the Ten Best Wine Tour Companies in the U.S. in the 2020 USA Today Reader’s Choice Awards.
When in Purcellville, don’t miss the exquisite vintage clothing, accessories and antiques at Silas Redd’s upscale thrift store Nostalgia Boutique. The dapper Redd sources vintage gems from around the country for his three-story boutique and has a stunning line of 1950s frocks and decadent fur coats. The shop is great for browsing, too.
Want to cater a party? Brooklyn born, Ashburn- based gourmet Chef Mel Moore is the creative force behind 12 Tables Elegant Dining, a catering and events company that does everything from corporate events to backyard BBQs to intimate weddings. One of the Washington Football Teams’ preferred chefs, he has been creating masterful dishes in the kitchen for more than a decade.
While discovering the rich African American history in Middleburg, stay at the Forbes 5 Star Rated Salamander Resort & Spa, founded by Black entrepreneur Sheila Johnson. Johnson is also the founder of the star-studded Middleburg Film Festival, a major stop on the Oscar trail.