Sites & Monuments
Loudoun County Courthouse, Leesburg
Slave auctions were once held on the steps of the courthouse in the center of downtown Leesburg and on March 2nd, 1768 three enslaved black men were executed there for striking and killing an overseer with axes. These were the first public executions in Loudoun. Years later, two freedmen were tried at the Courthouse for helping women and children escape slavery – their actions earning the Courthouse recognition as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site over a century later. In 1933, Charles Hamilton Houston became the first African American attorney to argue a major case in a Southern courtroom here, his successful legal strategy later earning him the sobriquet: “The man who killed Jim Crow”.
Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg
Named for Loudoun County native Thomas Balch, the father of international arbitration, the library built in 1922 documents the history and genealogy of the county, including the African American experience in Loudoun. There is a reading room named for Howard Clark, co-founder of the Loudoun County Emancipation Association. The library has a trove of detailed oral histories connecting modern-day descendants of both the enslaved and free peoples with the stories of their ancestors.
Oatlands Historic House & Gardens, Route 15
Established in 1798, the 360-acre Oatlands estate south of Leesburg on Route 15 was the largest slave-holding plantation in Loudoun until the Civil War. Visit to learn about the freed and enslaved peoples who cultivated the terraced English gardens, tilled the fields, tended the livestock and worked in the Greek Revival-style main mansion. After emancipation, many of the formerly enslaved remained in the area, establishing the Gleedsville community on a ridge to the northeast.
African American Burial Ground for the Enslaved at Belmont
Loudoun is dotted with African American cemeteries and burial grounds, some of which have only recently been unearthed. Today’s Belmont Country Club in Landsdowne was once part of the Belmont Plantation and a 2.75-acre enslaved peoples burial ground marked by fieldstones was discovered in woodland at the corner of Route 7 and Belmont Ave, on the property. In 2017 the Loudoun Freedom Center, a non-profit dedicated to preserving Loudoun’s African American heritage and educating about its past, won a long battle to gain ownership of the land, the largest African American burial ground in Loudoun. They now preserve it as an historic site for visitors, with a trail and paths cleared to guide visitors through the hallowed grounds.
Aldie Mill Historic District
The restored 19th century gristmill on Route 50 east of Middleburg was once the largest factory of its kind in Loudoun. Enslaved and free people of color worked there pre-Civil War and one, Daniel Dangerfield, escaped to freedom in Pennsylvania. Ironically, mill owner Charles Mercer, a slave holder, co-founded the American Colonization Society that sought to repatriate freedmen and the newly emancipated to West Africa. Weekend tours of the site include occasional grain grinding demonstrations in the tandem metal waterwheels.
At the corner of Braddock Rd and Loudoun County Parkway in South Riding stands the small, rehabilitated log cabin of Charles Dean, who was enslaved by landowner Thomas Settle pre-Civil War. When Settle died in 1886, he left all 142-acres of his property to Dean. By the time developers acquired the land a century later the cabin – really two cabins sided over with boards and fused together – had fallen into disrepair. It has since been restored and installed at the new site near the original location where Loudoun County Parks and Recreation oversee it. The interior is only open for select events.
Orion Anderson Lynching Marker
In the early hours of November 8th, 1889, a mob of 25 to 40 white men shot and lynched 14-year-old Orion Anderson outside the Leesburg freight depot along the W&OD Railway. The men had dragged him there after storming Leesburg jail where he was being held, accused of either scaring, chasing, assaulting or attempting to rape a girl of similar age in Hamilton, VA days earlier. Anderson's lynching is one of three documented in Loudoun County between 1880 and 1902. The site – at Harrison St and the W&OD Trail near Raflo Park – is commemorated by a historical marker laid by the Loudoun Freedom Center and the Loudoun County branch of the NAACP.
On Route 611 just north of Middleburg, Saint Louis is the largest historically African-American village in Loudoun. It was established in 1881 after former slaveholder Thomas Glasscock subdivided land he owned and sold one-acre plots for $20 apiece. Many of the buyers of the plots were emancipated enslaved. Charles McQuay, who returned to the area form St. Louis, Missouri to purchase a plot, inspired the village's name. Another resident, Wormly Hughes, grandson of Thomas Jefferson's gardener enslaved at Monticello, helped establish the St. Louis New School Baptist Church. Many residents were the stable hands and jockeys from the nearby horse farms. The village gained a reputation as an equestrian center, establishing the St. Louis Horse Show in 1900. Today, the Mt. Zion Baptist Church established in 1929, and Banneker Elementary School established in 1948, are still in operation.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS :
- Honoring Their Paths: African American Contributions along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground by Deborah A. Lee
- The Black History Committee of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library: http://balchfriends.org/black-history-education-resources
- Eugene Scheel: The History of Loudoun County, Virginia: https://www.loudounhistory.org/history/african-american-chronology/
- The Loudoun Freedom Center: http://loudounfreedomcenter.org/
Special thanks to:
- Donna Bohanon, Chairperson, The Black History Committee, Friends of the Thomas Balch Library
- Alicia O. Cohen, Coordinator for Member Tours, The Black History Committee, Friends of the Thomas Balch Library
- Phyllis Cook-Taylor, Publications Coordinator, The Black History Committee, Friends of the Thomas Balch Library
- Pastor Michelle C. Thomas, Executive Director, Loudoun Freedom Center
- Eugene Scheel, Cartographer, Writer and Historian