ORANGE COUNTY REVIEW, IKE PARRISH
Town residents, family and friends gathered at the corner of Church and Chapman streets in downtown Orange Sunday to celebrate Juneteenth with a ribbon cutting denoting the inception of a new commemorative park. The park honors the town’s historic Black commercial district and residential areas on Church, Chapman and Mill streets and Railroad Avenue.
The once-thriving district served as a hub for the Black community of Orange County throughout times of segregation leading up to the 1970s. The area was home to a variety of Black-owned businesses including restaurants, a beauty salon, a barber shop, a taxi service, a variety store and more.
The new park, to memorialize the district and its influence and contribution to Orange County, was brought to the town through the efforts of the Orange County African American Historical Society (OCAAHS) in partnership with LOVEOrangeVirginia and the Town of Orange.
“Today, as we celebrate Juneteenth, we illuminate and reflect on the Town of Orange’s African American business and residential district,” said OCAAHS President Bruce Monroe. “For more than 100 years, this was a segregated neighborhood of Black homes, businesses and Black families; two historic Black churches and schools. The Black family, the Black church and education were central elements of post-emancipation African American life.”
In his opening statement, Monroe thanked the sponsors, donors and organizations who helped the park come to fruition and touched on the history of the neighborhood. He explained that the district was a gathering area and commercial center for more than 20 post-emancipation Black settlements within the county.
“The dedication of this park today honors the contributions and sacrifices of these families and their contributions to the growth of the Town of Orange, the county and our nation,” said Monroe.
The park design, headed by OCAAHS Vice President and park project manager Zann Nelson, features landscaping and a walkway lined with three interpretive panels exhibiting historic photos and recounting some of the history of the district. Each panel highlights separate areas of the historic district and is equipped with a QR code that will link visitors to an informative video on the OCAAHS website, www.ocaahs.org. Nelson said seating areas will be added in the near future.
The plot of land where the park sits was leased to the OCAAHS by the Town of Orange.
“Not too long ago, this small parcel of land we’re standing on today was an empty gravel square sitting on the edge of the railroad track,” said Orange Mayor Martha Roby. “But today, through a true community effort, it has evolved into a beautiful mini-park that brightens this corner of our town and provides a place for reflection of the African American history in the Town of Orange.”
Funding for the park was raised through grants acquired by LOVEOrangeVirginia. A $25,000 downtown investment grant was awarded through the Department of Housing and Community Development through the Virginia Main Street Program. Another grant just shy of $5,000 was awarded by the Fredericksburg Area Association of Realtors.
“Today, we dedicate this revered space that commemorates the contributions of African American citizens past, present and future who have made, are making and will make to the town and to the county,” said LOVEOrangeVirginia Executive Director Charlotte Cole.
Seventh Congressional District Rep. Abigail Spanberger highlighted the importance of Juneteenth and celebrating African American heritage in the community.
“I am honored to be here today to help share in this moment and make sure the past is not just remembered but kept alive as part of this amazing community story,” she said. “Thank you to the Orange County African American Historical Society for the invitation to help dedicate this park and celebrate the heritage and contributions of Orange’s African American community.”
“Last year, I was proud to vote for a bill in Congress that officially made Juneteenth a federal holiday,” she continued. “It is exciting to know that Juneteenth is now observed across America from Orange County, Virginia to Orange County, California. And It’s exciting that as part of that we are making sure that Americans across the country remember this important moment in our nations history and this holiday is about both remembering and looking forward.”