BERRYVILLE — Bristow is gone, but it won’t be forgotten.
A historical marker will be unveiled at 11 a.m. Saturday near the intersection of Shepherds Mill and Castleman roads, northeast of Berryville, where the community once stood.
It will forever be a reminder of the role that Bristow and other former African-American settlements played in the county’s history.
The marker reads: “The African American community of Bristow originated in 1869 when Brister (or Bristol) Holmes purchased land near here. A public school (ca. 1883) and Bethel Baptist Church (ca. 1928) became centers of community life. Emancipated African Americans, exercising their newfound autonomy, established or settled in nearly 20 villages across Clarke County after the Civil War. Almost half of Clarke’s population had been enslaved in 1860, a much higher percentage than in other Shenandoah Valley counties, reflecting this area’s Tidewater-style plantation economy. Freedom for African Americans therefore led to a substantial reconfiguration of the county’s settlement patterns and built environment.”
History traced by Maral Kalbian, Clarke County’s architectural historian, revealed that Holmes originally bought an acre from Alfred Larue. As other African Americans bought nearby lots and development occurred, the community became known by various names, including Bristow, Brister Station, Bristow Station, Bristoe and Bristo.
The church — the last vestige of the community — was razed in January 2017 after efforts to find a suitable place to move it were unsuccessful. The single-story, wooden-frame church was of Gothic Revival style. It had a standing-seam metal roof, pressed-tin ceiling and unpainted wood doors and wainscoting. It’s believed that the structure replaced an original church on the site.
Holmes is believed to have been the church’s founder.
Clarke County’s most well-known African-American community is the Josephine City Historic District, along Josephine Street in Berryville. A church, parish hall, cemetery and three former schools remain in the neighborhood. One of the former schools houses a museum dedicated to preserving the community’s history.
Time has taken away many of the county’s original African-American settlements.
“But that doesn’t mean their historical significance has disappeared,” Kalbian said. She hopes markers eventually can be installed for all of them, she said.
Last year, the Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved the $1,770 marker for Bristow, paid for through a fundraising effort. Its installation was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The marker is in the ground,” said Jim Caldwell, a Castleman Road resident who initiated the project. “But we have waited to unveil it as part of an event that recognizes the former emancipated peoples that built this community following the Civil War.”
Caldwell described the marker as “a much deserved and long overdue recognition of the achievements and struggles of the original residents of Bristow Station.”
“Their accomplishments are to be celebrated,” added Kalbian.
Speakers at the unveiling will include Kalbian; David Weiss, chairman of the Clarke County Board of Supervisors; and David Edwards, director of the state Department of Historic Resources’ Community Services Division. Other special guests are expected to include Gloria Green of California and George Holmes of Reston, both descendants of Brister Holmes, and Dorothy Davis, granddaughter of Sandy Lewis, who over time bought more than 30 acres in the area. A lot of the new construction that has occurred along Castleman Road in recent years is on land once owned by Davis’ family, Caldwell mentioned.
The event will be held rain or shine. Ceremonies will be held under a tent in the yard of Nate and Carrie Fox. Attendees will cross the road to observe the unveiling, then return to the tent for conversation and light refreshments, according to Caldwell.
Limited parking will be available on the Fox property, Caldwell said. Vehicles also can be parked along the shoulder of Castleman Road.
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