Four local spots among 13 approved for new historical highway markers

Posted at 12:44 PM, Apr 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-04 12:44:43-04

Richmond, Va. – Four spots in Hampton Roads and the surrounding area are among 13 that have been approved by the the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for new historical highway markers.

The local additions include: 

A new marker, “Norge Depot,” for James City County will pay tribute to a Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company depot constructed in 1907-1908. The depot served a rural community of Scandinavian immigrants who were recruited to the area before the depot’s construction by a Norwegian-born railway agent, Carl M. Bergh. The marker notes that the Norge Depot was relocated in 2006 a half-mile away from its original site in order that it could be restored and preserved.

“Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex,” Portsmouth: Established by African Americans beginning in 1879 on land adjacent to a “potter’s field.” The cemetery was enlarged later to create a four-cemetery complex. The burials include many community leaders, Civil War U.S. Colored Troops, and veterans of other wars.

“George W. Carver High School,” Newport News: Opened in 1949 as a consolidated African American school for grades 1-11, replacing “inadequate, overcrowded facilities in the 1930s and 1940s.” According to the future marker, “Homer L. Hines, the school’s only principal, inspired students to high achievement.” Carver closed in 1971.

“Booker T. Washington High School,” Suffolk: Opened in 1913 for black students in grades 1-8. A larger school was constructed in 1925, and in 1937 a senior high curriculum was added after black residents in the community campaigned for the expansion. The school was relocated, due to overcrowding, in 1953 and its last high school class graduated in 1969, after which the building served as an intermediate school and later elementary school.

Other additions include: 

  • The marker titled “Loving v. Virginia” will rise in Caroline County to commemorate a lawsuit that involved Richard Loving, a white man, and his wife, Mildred Jeter, “a woman of African American and Virginia Indian descent,” the marker will read. Loving and Jeter married in 1958 in Washington D.C. and were subsequently arrested at their home in Caroline County “for violating Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage.” The Lovings were convicted and sentenced to one year in jail – or have the sentence suspended if they departed Virginia. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the conviction. After the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled against the Lovings in 1966, the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
  • Settlement and transportation history in Nelson County are at the heart of a marker focusing on the Greenwood-Afton Rural Historic District, which is listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. The 16,300-acre district covers the Rockfish Gap, “the lowest passage through the Blue Ridge Mountains for a span of more than 110 miles,” according to the forthcoming marker. “The district has been a focal point for routes converging from the east toward the gap since the days of buffalo trails and Native American footpaths,” the sign will read.
  • Railroad history also informs a forthcoming Augusta County marker that recalls the village of Stokesville, which “became a boomtown after the Chesapeake Western Railway was extended” to the community in 1902, according to the approved marker. The town’s population grew to 1,500 by 1905 as people arrived to work in “lumber mills, bark tanneries, a stave and heading factory, and other enterprises,” the sign will read. After 1910 the town declined, and a 1949 flood “destroyed most of its remaining structures.”
  • The decision of Robert Carter III, considered one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. in the 1790s, to manumit his slaves will be highlighted in a marker slated for Northumberland County. A “deed of manumission” Carter filed at the Northumberland County Courthouse on September 5, 1791, “eventually freed more than 500 enslaved African Americans owned by Carter in several Virginia counties,” the approved marker states. “To retain them in Slavery,” Carter wrote, “is contrary to the true principles of Religion and Justice,” the marker will relay.
  • Settlement of Richmond’s Oregon Hill is to be highlighted in a marker commemorating the neighborhood. Originally laid out as a town in 1817 in what was then Henrico County, the working-class neighborhood developed slowly during the 19th century. Oregon Hill drew “white laborers, including European immigrants, and a smaller number of free African American workers” attracted to its “affordable housing near the city’s numerous factories,” the marker will read. The city of Richmond annexed Oregon Hill in 1867.
  • To the south of Richmond, a 1790 Chesterfield County meeting house that evolved into Bethlehem Baptist Church will be recalled in forthcoming marker. “From 1880 to 1885, Bethlehem member Nannie Bland David served as a missionary to Nigeria,” according to the approved marker. “Her dying words, ‘Never give up Africa,’ inspired later missionaries,” it will read. Bethlehem Baptist included a significant number of African Americans in its congregation who established “separate churches in the 1840s and shortly after the Civil War.”
  • “Mt. Nebo Baptist Church,” King William County: The church traces back to the Civil War. “The Gothic Revival-style sanctuary was built in 1887,” according to the approved text. Civil rights attorney Oliver W. Hill visited the church in 1952 and urged the congregation to challenge the “separate-but-equal” doctrine that fostered segregation.
  • The marker “Prince Hall Masons in Virginia” will be erected in Petersburg to highlight two rival Grand Lodges of African-American Freemasons in the city that in 1875 united to “form the present-day Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Virginia, Free and Accepted Masons, Inc,” in the words of the future sign. The Prince Hall Masons originated in 1775 in Massachusetts, with the first affiliated lodge in Virginia established in Alexandria in 1845.
  • At the end of the 18th century, African Americans constituted almost half the congregation at Alexandria’s Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church. With support from Trinity, black members founded a separate congregation early in the 1830s, and their sanctuary was completed here in 1834. The church, initially known as Davis Chapel, was renamed in 1845 for Bishop Robert Richford Roberts, a former pastor of Trinity. Members quickly established a Sunday school that offered general education and religious training. Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington lectured here late in the 19th century. The sanctuary was remodeled in the Gothic Revival style in 1894.

The Virginia highway marker program, which began in 1927 with installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Rte. 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,500 official state markers, most of which are maintained by Virginia Department of Transportation, except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.

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