$118,500 African American Civil Rights grant to restore two historic structures
CHARLES TOWN Two structures of significance to local African American history will now be able to be restored, thanks to a $118,500 African American Civil Rights Historic Preservation grant given to the city of Charles Town by the U.S. Department of Interior and National Park Service.
The African American Civil Rights Grant Program is funded with $14 million from the U.S. Congress, as part of the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund. This year, the program is funding 51 projects in 21 states.
“Celebrating and preserving our heritage in Charles Town with this National Park Service funding will help us continue our local endeavors to ensure that all people have equality and opportunity in our community,” said George Rutherford, Jefferson County branch president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Some of the grant money given for Charles Town’s work will be used to restore Star Lodge #1, which has been a local center of black fraternal activities and community activism and service since 1877. The building, which once housed enslaved persons owned by town founder Charles Washington, is owned and operated by the Free and Accepted Masons/Prince Hall Affiliated, Star Lodge #1 Chapter. Significant work has taken place in the building over the years, including the hosting of Masons Grand Communication conventions in 1908, 1951, 1977 and 2002; key roles in the establishment of pre-1954 black elementary and high schools in 1929 and 1950; a place for meetings of the NAACP, black outposts of the American legion, black youth athletic associations, African American fraternal and sorority organizations and community non-profits; and the center of the decades-long tradition of Freedom Marches in January each year for 50 years and African American heritage and cultural festivals in August each year for more than 27 years.
The restoration for the building became apparent in 2018, when its exterior chimney collapsed. The NPS grant will dedicate $2,500 to architectural designs, and $56,000 in restoration construction for Star Lodge.
“This grant will put Star Lodge back into action for improvements and progress in the Jefferson County community, and lets our organization avoid having to borrow significant money for this critical restoration,” said lodge lead officer Anthony Grant.
The majority of the grant money, however, will be used to restore Jefferson County’s first public school for African American students, the Free Black School in Charles Town. Of the grant money, $2,500 will be used to preserve the building’s architectural design and $57,500 will be used for construction and restoration on the building’s exterior brick, porch, roof, windows, doors, flooring and utilities.
Built from 1867-1868, the Free Black School is currently owned by Zion Baptist Church. Although it spent its early days as a school, its use as a space by ZBC for black community gathering place in the 1950s-1970s, leading the National Register of Historic Places to call it “a social and community anchor” for local African Americans.
“This building has been important from the earliest days of Charles Town and the founding of our congregation,” said ZBC Deacon Curtis Roy. “We look forward to restoring the Free School to provide a new space for church and community gatherings, youth mentoring and other beneficial activities.”
According to Charles Town Mayor Bob Trainor, getting the grant was the result of work by the NAACP, Star Lodge, ZBC, the Jefferson County Black Historic Preservation Society, former Charles Town councilman Michael Tolbert and city staff.
“This grant represents an awesome concerted effort on the part of all our stakeholders, and is another key step in the continuing revitalization of Charles Town that seeks to build on our rich heritage, preserve our historical treasures and improve local quality of life, while boosting West Virginia’s tourism economy,” Trainor said.