CHARLES TOWN—The care and promotion of Webb-Blessing House, a structure significant to Charles Town’s history, will now be the responsibility of a newly formed nonprofit called Friends of Webb-Blessing House. The official transference of the property took place at a brief ceremony on Friday.
The nearly 200-year-old house was bought by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society with restoration taking place in 2003. George Rutherford and James Taylor, along with the late James A. Tolbert and the late Nathaniel Downing founded the Preservation Society in 2000.
“James and I are the only ones left. We felt it was time to pass the house on. We want its history to continue,” said Rutherford.
Taylor said the house was literally falling apart.
“We had some bad storms years ago and I put piling on the windows to protect it,” said Taylor. “We were told it would cost $300,000 to restore it. We (the Preservation Society) put in $25,000 of our own money. We received more than $100,000 in grants.”
Today, the Webb-Blessing House is on the National Register of Historic Places. It consists of two houses that were adjoined in the 19th century. The older part of the house dates to the 1830s and is believed to be the oldest still-standing dwelling owned by freed African-Americans in Jefferson County. The home also has ties to John F. Blessing, who became a friend to John Brown during the weeks the abolitionist was on trial and then awaiting execution in Charles Town in 1859.
“John Brown gave Blessing his Bible,” said Doug Perks, chairman of the Friends of Webb-Blessing House steering committee. “The Bible is in a Chicago museum. We hope to get it back.”
The Webb-Blessing House is located at 303 East North St.
“North Street is the oldest street in Charles Town,” said Michael Tolbert, another steering committee member and son of the late James Tolbert. “North Street was the street you had to travel on to get to Winchester, Virginia. It was a major thoroughfare.”
Tolbert offered a public tour of the Webb-Blessing House during the Friday ceremony.
In the older part of the home, an amateur archaeological dig can be seen. Pieces of tools and other items were found and are now on display.
The building was also used by Ollie Blessing who taught a kindergarten class there. During the days when segregation was prevalent, Ollie would borrow library books from the Charles Town Library so African-American youngsters could benefit from them. They weren’t allowed in the library.
In the backyard of Webb-Blessing there’s a slave cabin, as well as a garden. Ellen May, another member of the steering committee, is in charge of the garden.
“Youngsters have come to plant and tend the garden,” May said. “We have the same plants that can be found at gardens in Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home. We have given what we’ve grown to the Boys and Girls Club.”
May said the youngsters who have visited the garden “have been wonderful. One young man asked if he could plant a lasagna tree.”
Keeping the history of the Webb-Blessing House alive is an important part of what the Friends of Webb-Blessing House want to do.
“There are so many stories here that should be told. We want people to know about them,” Taylor said.
“The time is right,” Perks added. “We are seeking volunteers, docents who can conduct tours and grant writers to get funding to maintain the building and the grounds.”
For more information, contact steering committee member Donna Northouse at 304-876-7012.