The struggles and triumphs of the African American community in Loudoun County, particularly in the days of slavery and the Jim Crow era, are little known, but a new book published by Friends of the Thomas Balch Library might change that.
"The Essence of a People II: African Americans Who Made Their World Anew in Loudoun County, Virginia and Beyond" tells the stories of 15 residents who not only survived but thrived in stressful and often threatening times.
That book and five others on the history of Loudoun County, published by Friends of the Thomas Balch Library, will go on sale tomorrow. Last night, members of the organization were to get a first look at the books, which were to be displayed at the Balch Ball, a fundraiser at the historic Belmont plantation.
Friends of the Thomas Balch Library is a nonprofit corporation that gives financial assistance to the library in areas not covered by the Leesburg town government and conducts research projects on the county's history.
Friends' President Fred Morefield said the books reflect the group's mission to "make Loudoun County the best documented county in the United States." Part of that mission is to organize existing material at the library so it is easily accessible to researchers, he said.
The other newly published books are in a series titled "Loudoun Discovered" by local historian Eugene Scheel, who wrote of colorful individuals and traced the often complex history of communities and their names. Scheel's books are a compilation of articles that originally appeared in the Loudoun Times-Mirror.
"With Gene's work, we put together the articles and had it updated and indexed," Morefield said. "Now it's organized and accessible."
Scheel, a regular contributor to Loudoun Extra, created 25 historic maps for the five volumes.
The "Essence" book, edited by Kendra Y. Hamilton, is the work of 11 writers who cover more than 200 years of history beginning with ferry boat owner Basil Newman, born in 1779, and ending with jockey Col. "Knot" Brooks, who died in 1993. Among the residents introduced are Joseph and Lena Cook, who helped found the first school for black children in Purcellville in 1919.
Sheila Pinkney Kelly, a descendent of the Cooks, wrote that Joseph's parents were slaves in Cooksville but that he was born free in 1866. Mary Salena "Lena" Stewart's parents were Cherokee and Irish American. Little is known of their early lives, but records show they were married in 1890 and raised three children in Purcellville.
When one of their children was too ill to walk two miles to school in Lincoln, the Cooks organized the Willing Workers Club to raise money for their own school. The 14 members raised $200 to buy land, and Cook, a skilled stonemason and carpenter, built the two-room school.
The building was known as the Willing Workers Hall until 1937, when it was deeded to the Loudoun County School Board and its name was changed to Purcellville Elementary School.
Scheel's books are divided along geographic boundaries. They are "Eastern Loudoun: 'Goin Down the Country,' " "Leesburg and the Old Carolina Road," "The Hunt Country and Middleburg," "The Quakers and the Loudoun Valley" and "Waterford, German Settlement and Between the Hills."
Scheel's sometimes whimsical accounts include one about Miss Annie Downs, who collected tolls on what is now Route 7 at the present day Ashburn Junction. She stood in the road to keep anyone from slipping by. Even President Warren G. Harding, a frequent visitor to the nearby Belmont estate, where the Balch Ball was held, had to pay 25 cents, just like everyone else.
Scheel also answers the frequent question of visitors and newcomers to Loudoun: How did the town of St. Louis get its name?
Seems that after the Civil War, one of the McQuay brothers went to St. Louis, Mo., and stayed there for several years. When he returned, his brothers dubbed him "Little St. Louis," and the name was soon applied to the settlement where the McQuay family lived.