African American Resource Survey

History of African Americans In Loudoun

In 2002 and 2003, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors contracted with History Matters to survey historic resources related to the history of African Americans in Loudoun County, Virginia. Throughout the project, History Matters worked closely with:

  •  The Black History Committee of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library (Co-Sponsor)
  • Loudoun County Department of Planning and Zoning
  •  Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR).
Lincoln School


History Matters surveyed:

  •  210 properties
    • 200 at the reconnaissance level (exterior documentation) 
    • 10 at the intensive level (exterior and interior)
  •  Resources dating from the late 18th through the mid-20th centuries 

Most properties are located within the 30 historically African-American towns, villages, hamlets or neighborhoods that the Black History Committee of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library identified in 2001 during their African American Community mapping project. The map is available for viewing in the online Map Gallery created by the Loudoun County Office of Mapping and Geographic Information (OMAGI) and hosted by

Research Findings

Initial research suggests that: 

  • Most of the identified communities were founded by African Americans in the 30 years following the end of the American Civil War
  • Many of the villages were established by former slaves who purchased land from white landowners. 
  • Three types of African-American communities were documented: 
    • Independent communities (Willisville, St. Louis, Bowmantown, Hillsboro/Short Hill)
    •  Segregated neighborhoods or enclaves within larger, mixed-race towns (Purcellville, Hamilton, and Round Hill)
    • Small, mixed-race rural communities (Sycolin and Watson).

Documented building types include:

  • Single - and multi-family dwellings
    • The most common type of building was the single-family dwelling. 
  • Schools, (such as Douglass High School in Leesburg, shown at right in 1947)
  • Commercial buildings 
  • Religious buildings

Overall, clusters of modest residences, often accompanied by churches or schools and, less frequently, by general stores, characterize Loudoun's African-American communities.

Douglass High School

African-American Historic Architectural Resources Survey

As a result of the survey, VDHR determined that seven of the African-American communities are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places: Bowmantown, Brownsville, Howardsville, Murphy's Corner, St. Louis, Watson, and Willisville. To determine National Register eligibility, the consultant completed Preliminary Information Forms for each of these communities. Now on file in the Loudoun County Department of Planning, these forms are available to the public by request.

View the Loudoun County African-American Historic Architectural Resources Survey.

Note: The photo of Douglass High School, Leesburg, Class of 1947 is from Virginia Landmarks of Black History: Sites on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places prepared and edited by Calder Loth, University Press of Virginia: Charlottesville, VA, 1995. p.56 (DHR Number 253-0070).