Charles Town taking over Jefferson Memorial Park

July 19, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Jefferson Memorial Park in Charles Town, W.Va., features a swimming pool (seen at rear) and tennis courts. It recently was taken over by the City of Charles Town.
By Richard F. Belisle/Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Sometime around July 30, the City of Charles Town will officially assume ownership of the 61-year-old Jefferson Memorial Park, its tennis courts, pavilions and swimming pool.

“We’ve been eyeing it for a couple of years,” said City Councilman Michael Slover. “It’s a very valuable asset because it’s right in the middle of the city.”

The city is buying the 11.6-acre park from the Jefferson Memorial Park Board for $1, said City Manager Joe Cosentini.

According to Slover, the city council will increase its annual parks and recreation budget from $17,500 to $45,500 to support the new acquisition.

Fees from the three tennis courts, four pavilions and the large community swimming pool will help to offset operating costs, Slover said. The park also has three basketball courts, picnic areas and a walking trail that’s seven-tenths of a mile, said W. Glenn Ramsburg, a park board member since 1958.

Ramsburg said while the board makes money from pool, tennis and pavilion fees, it’s not enough to cover expenses. “We can’t charge kids enough to use the pool,” he said.

The park board has nonprofit status and will continue its fundraising program to help the city’s Board of Parks and Recreation Commission with expenses, Slover said.

A large plaque on the edge of the park on Forrest Avenue said the land for the facility was donated in 1950 by Dr. and Mrs. G.P. Morison. It opened as a private park for whites only and remained that way through the mid-1960s. Blacks were finally allowed in following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but only after a struggle, said James Tolbert, 78, secretary of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society.

“They made it very clear through the years that blacks are not welcome,” James said.

“After the park opened, a white man offered the black community $100 so they could open their own (segregated) park, but they wouldn’t accept the money,” Tolbert said.

Blacks made up about a third of Charles Town’s population in 1950, he said.

When the Civil Rights Act became the law of the land, the local NAACP chapter began to push for the admittance of blacks into the park. “The park’s board members insisted that the park was for white people only and that it would remain that way,” Tolbert said.

At the time the local American Red Cross chapter was giving free swimming lessons to white children in the park pool.

“The NAACP went to the Red Cross and asked why only white children were getting swimming lessons,” he said.

Red Cross officials offered to bus black children to the pool at then Shepherd College, but no one would get on the bus, Tolbert said.

The NAACP wrote to the Red Cross at its national headquarters in Washington, D.C., to tell officials there about what was going on in Charles Town.

“They notified the Red Cross in Charles Town to stop all swimming lessons for white children. That’s what broke it up,” he said. The pool was open to everyone after that.

According to Slover, Jefferson Memorial Park brings to four the number of parks in the city’s inventory. The other three are Evitts Run, Willingham-Knolls and the Charles Town Skate Park.

The Herald-Mail Articles