Donation helps boost renovation effort

February 21, 2002

Donation helps boost renovation effort

Charles Town, W.Va.

By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

Efforts by a historical group to purchase a house that is believed to be one of the first stone structures built by free African-Americans in the ante-bellum period was given a boost Wednesday when a Hagerstown man made a donation toward the purchase.

Vincent Groh gave the $5,000 check to members of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society at the house Wednesday morning.

"You don't know how much we appreciate this," said Jim Taylor, president of the society.

It is believed the two-story house at 303 E. North St. was built by James Webb between 1829 and 1830, Taylor said.


Although not a lot is known about Webb and his association with the house, there is plenty of history behind it.

It was once owned by John F. Blessing, who provided meals for abolitionist John Brown while Brown was being held in a jail in Charles Town, W.Va. Brown gave Blessing his Bible in return for his kindness, Taylor said.

In the 1900s, a woman named Ollie Blessing ran a kindergarten in the house, Taylor said. Blessing often would stand outside the building and give black students books to read as they were returning home from school, said Taylor, who received some of the books.

At that time, Taylor said his school did not have a library.

Blessing also invited black children inside to read to them along with white children, which was interesting given the fact that schools were segregated at that time, said Taylor.

"This is very historic," Taylor said as he stood outside the house with Groh and other community leaders Wednesday.

Groh, who owns business properties in the Hagerstown area and West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, said he found out about the effort to save the house through local history buffs and decided to step forward to help.

Members of Taylor's group are hoping Groh's donation will spur others to make donations to raise the $31,000 needed to purchase the house. At least $15,000 is needed between now and June to secure the purchase of the house, society officials said.

About $75,000 will be needed to renovate the house, Taylor said.

Anyone wanting to make donations is being asked to donate the money to the Blessing Property Preservation Fund at the Bank of Charles Town.

The Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society plans to use the house to store, interpret and exhibit items related to local African-American history, Taylor said.

The group has been collecting stories about local African-American history, such as accounts of famous black performers who used to come to Jefferson County.

The Herald-Mail Articles