HARPERS FERRY—A new walking tour focusing on African American history in the area, as well as generating funds to restore the former First Zion Baptist Church takes place at 10 a.m. September 11.
The Harpers Ferry Black Heritage Guided Walking Tour is sponsored by the Harpers Ferry-Bolivar Historic Town Foundation, in conjunction with the Storer College National Alumni Association.
The walking tour consists of visiting six sites that represent different eras of black history. African Americans once made up at least 25 percent of Harpers Ferry’s population. Some of the tour’s locations were part of or associated with Storer College, which was chartered in 1867 as one of the first institutions to provide secondary education to black citizens. It closed in 1955, but its former campus is part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
“Storer College attracted permanent black residents, vacationers, and entrepreneurs to the area,” said Maria Beckman, foundation board member and secretary. “One of the sites visited on the tour is the home of Marcia Blue Weaver, the grandmother of Thomas Lovett who built and operated the Hill Top Hotel. Weaver was a formerly enslaved businesswoman who ran a successful boarding house on Fillmore Street.”
African American residents were concentrated along Fillmore and Washington Streets and in the West Ridge neighborhood from the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries. Several churches that were at the heart of the Black community are also part of the tour, including the former First Zion Baptist Church. Other highlights include the homes of civic and civil rights leaders, professors, business and trades people, religious leaders, and local heroes.
Another site on the tour is the Harpers Ferry Gazebo were participants will hear about race relations after the Civil War by presenter Daniel David Jackson, Jr. who worked at the Hill Top. Other tour speakers will be former Harpers Ferry National Historical Park park ranger David Fox; Delores Foster; Cynthia Gayton, Reverend Ed Hall; Lynn Pechuekonis, and George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County branch of the NAACP.
Beckman said plans for tours that highlight important sites in the area’s African American population have been in the works for years.
“We have a pamphlet for a self-guided tour version that lists 34 sites,” Beckman said. “Walking tours in the past have focused more on (what’s called) the Lower Town and Storer College rather than ours that focuses on the Upper Town and Storer College.”
Saturday’s two-hour walking tour can have 40 adult participants. Tickets are $15. All proceeds support the ongoing efforts to restore the former First Zion Baptist Church located at 1030 W. Ridge St..The church was purchased by the foundation in 2017 to be a community and cultural center.
“We are so excited. Work was just completed on the church’s roof. Now we can start on the inside,” Beckman said.
The 124-year-old former First Zion Baptist Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Full details about the walking tour can be found at HYPERLINK “http://www.historicharpersferry.org/events”www.historicharpersferry.org/events.
The Harpers Ferry-Bolivar Historic Town Foundation was started by former Mayor James Addy in 1999. It was formed to preserve and protect the local history of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar beyond the scope of the National Historical Park and the Harpers Ferry Park Association. In May 2002, it was officially recognized by the IRS as a nonprofit organization and, in June 2007, the foundation was incorporated in the state of West Virginia.