July 12, 2015

Josephine City and Zion Baptist Church

In Berryville, Virginia
historical marker

The historical marker shown here was installed by Virginia's Department of Historic Resources in 2014. It replaced a less-accurate marker that was installed in 1999 which read:
To improve the lives of former slaves, Ellen McCormick, widow of Edward McCormick of Clermont, established this African American community of 31 one-acre lots early in the 1870s. The lots, laid out on either side of the 16-foot-wide street that originated near the tollgate on the Berryville Turnpike, sold for $100 each. The community probably was named for Josephine Williams, who owned two lots. By 1900 Josephine City had become an oasis for Clarke County’s African American residents and included a school, grocery store, gas station, boarding house, restaurant, cemetery, and two churches.
Researchers discovered that Mrs. McCormick tried to sell off part of her farm to ease financial burdens after her husband's death. She was approached by African-American citizens with a proposal that she subdivide a section of the farm and sell lots to members of their community, some of whom had been enslaved until the Civil War and who now wanted to own their own homes.  She agreed to this proposal and held loans on the lots until they were paid off. Since this was clearly a business decision and not a charitable gift as the 1999 marker implied, the sign was changed and now reads:
Early in the 1870's African Americans established Josephine City, a community originally composed of 31 one-acre lots lining a 16-foot-wide street. Twenty-four former slaves and free blacks purchased the lots at $100 an acre from Ellen McCormick, owner of Clermont Farm. The street and the community were probably named after a former slave at Clermont, Josephine Williams, purchaser of two lots. By 1900, Josephine City had become an oasis for the county’s African Americans and was a self-sufficient community with a school, grocery store, gas station, boarding house, restaurant, cemetery, churches, and numerous residents.

churchWe learned of this history at a lecture on Friday at Cedar Creek Battlefield. Today we visited the Josephine School, now a museum that is open on Sunday afternoons. I have pictures of the school to post later, but want to share photos of the community's churches for the Inspired Sunday blog hop. I like church architecture and this one has the grace and charm that we see in so many churches here in the Shenandoah Valley.

This building was erected in 1908 with the brick front added later.

Across the street from the brick church is the Franklin Annex, built in 1882. It served as the main church until the newer one was built in 1908. An online history of Zion Baptist Church explains that the congregation originally met outdoors with "green foliage for decorations, rough boards for pews, the canopy of heaven for their lamps."


  1. Nice church , I like how it is done in both brick & shiplap

  2. How very interesting....and it's great that the clarification is now situated for more accuracy. "canopy of heaven for their lamps."....I like that very much.

  3. Linda, you find such wonderful history! Tom The Backroads Traveller

  4. Linda, it is a beautiful church and thanks for sharing its history! Have a happy day and new week ahead!

  5. Beautiful church! I like church architecture too.

  6. The church architecture here is quite distinctive... and a lot of history, too.

  7. This place certainly has a unique history. Lovely place.


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