At 11 a.m. on Friday, February 1, the Warren Heritage Society (WHS) will unveil a new exhibit in the Front Royal Town Hall (102 E Main St, Front Royal) to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African-Americans prior to and after the establishment of Warren County.
The exhibit will be officially opened by Letasha Thompson. “As the first African-American woman elected to the Front Royal Town Council,” Thompson said, “I have a special interest in this exhibit, as it features the achievements of African-American women.”
The unveiling coincides with the opening of African-American History Month. Warren Heritage Society Executive Director Connie Marshner hopes that this exhibit will help to make known the Society’s ongoing effort to gather and preserve the African-American history of Front Royal and Warren County.
“This history is in danger of being lost without the help of the local community,” Marshner said. “I hope that this event will alert the community to the need to collect memories and memorabilia before they disappear forever.”
For many years, the southwest corner of Front Royal was known as “Freetown” or “South Town”. Now included in the U. S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places, it was bounded by Prospect Street and Criser Road and included Laurel, Pine, and Osage Streets. Letasha Thompson grew up on Osage Street, and remembers some of the buildings.
As this area has experienced “development” over the years, however, many of the old buildings have disappeared. In its heyday, however, it was a vibrant community with homes, schools, at least one church, a hotel, stores, businesses, and entertainment. Businesses had the names of Cozy Ace Restaurant, Elks Grill, Harlem Café, Lilian Davenport’s Beauty Shop, Toddy’s Grocery, Elks Hall, Pride of Warren Lodge, Pete’s Barber Shop, Timber’s Pool Room, and the Free Will Benevolent Society.
Sadly, however, neither the National Register nor the Warren Heritage Society has any pictures of Freetown. Nor are any memorabilia of Freetown to be found anywhere. The Heritage Society is seeking to save the history of Freetown before it is gone, and is actively seeking the help of the community.
If anybody has pictures or memorabilia – or even memories – of the area, it’s likely that somebody with roots in Front Royal has them or knows about them! Please share with us what you have. If you have information or pictures, please contact Archivist Deborah Corey at 540-636-1446, extension 2. “We will copy your pictures and return them to you, if you wish,” said Corey.
Marshner went on to say: “If someone is willing to talk about his or her memories or experience in Freetown, we will be happy to arrange an oral history interview with that person, either at the Heritage Society or in some other mutually convenient location.” She noted that oral history is something the Heritage Society has not done before, but because the clock is ticking so fast, “It is something we certainly will do if it will capture some memories.” Marshner stated.
The Laura Virginia Hale Archives, a section of the Warren Heritage Society, has a wealth of material documenting the African American experience in our area. “Our collection spans the centuries, from slave rental forms to desegregation. We have extensive genealogy and research tools to help anyone find ancestors. The Archives also has a collection of fiction and nonfiction books written by local African Americans writers about their and their families’ experiences,” Corey explained.
The Warren Heritage Society, www.WarrenHeritageSociety.org, is located at 101 Chester Street in Front Royal. We are open to the public Monday thru Friday from 10:00 to 4:00, and as of April will also be open on Saturdays from 11:00 to 4:00 p.m.