Family, friends and Loudoun historians turned out in force Sunday afternoon for winners of the 2017 Thomas Balch Library Advisory Commission’s 25th Annual Loudoun History Awards.
This year’s honorees were: Phyllis Cook-Taylor, James A. Morgan III and William C. Ray, who were celebrated for their contributions to preserving the county’s rich past.
Advisory Commission Chairman James H. Hershman Jr. welcomed attendees, including Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk, Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel and members of the Advisory Commission and the Black History Committee.
The contributions of Cook-Taylor, a native of Middleburg, have been so numerous over the years that she was nominated by four people—Donna Bohanon, chairwoman of the of Black History Committee; Alicia Cohen, organizer of the committee’s black history Heritage Bus Tour; Arlene Hill; and photographer Jim Roberts.
Bohanon praised Cook-Taylor for her activities in preservation organizations for many years, including as a founding member and officer of the Slave Quarters at Hutchinson Farm and a founding member of the Black History Committee of Friends of the Thomas Balch Library. In her own town, Cook-Taylor was instrumental in Middleburg’s purchase of the historic black Asbury United Methodist Church.
Bohanon said she greatly depended on Cook-Taylor as a key member of the committee— “I have her on speed-dial,” she quipped.
Arlene Hill, noting Cook-Taylor’s willingness to dive into any and all projects, including the Slave Quarters Project, called her “an inspiration,” an essential promoter of the importance of African-American history, and someone who never sugar-coated history. “She never said ‘no’ to anything.”
For her part, Cook-Taylor complimented the many individuals in the various organizations with which she was involved. “I worked with so many,” she said.
Jim Morgan, who was nominated by historians Wynne Saffer and Bill Wilkin, has been a leading figure in Loudoun’s Civil War history for years, as well as serving on the Balch Library Commission.
Saffer noted Morgan was omnipresent in Loudoun organizations—past president of the Civil War Roundtable, Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, past chairman of the Loudoun County Heritage Commission, a member of the Mosby Heritage Area Association Advisory Board, a volunteer guide at Ball’s Bluff Battlefield and an organizer of the Friends of Ball’s Bluff.
Morgan was one of the first guides at the Ball’s Bluff battlefield, and it was out of that experience that he wrote his book, “A Little Short of Boats: The Fights at Ball’s Bluff and Edwards Ferry, October 21-22, 1861.”
Hailing Morgan’s master’s degree in library science, and his gifted career in the foreign service, Wilkin said “his book changed everything [we knew] about Ball’s Bluff.”
It was Morgan who realized the research about the battle was foggy and incomplete. The resulting book—based on personal observation of the battlefield and original sources—was revised and expanded in a 2011 publishing.
Accepting the award, Morgan noted that “70 percent of Loudoun’s population has lived in the county less than 10 years.” He cautioned that we can lose the memory of self—“it’s like having Alzheimer’s, we forget who we are.”
Newer residents don’t have that personal connection to the county and its history, he said, “so it’s very important to show them … our culture is worth it.”
Balch Library Director Alexandra Gressitt read the nomination for Bill Ray, as presenter Lewis Leigh Jr. could not be present. Ray was nominated for his “many accomplishments in preserving and interpreting Loudoun County history.”
Leigh cited Ray’s meticulous research on his community of Mt. Gilead and almost 20 other properties in Loudoun. Several of his books are part of Balch Library’s collection. Ray has served on the Balch Library’s Friends Board for five years.
It was Ray’s research, personal recollections and stories about the community of Mt. Gilead, south of Leesburg, published in 2010, that brought him to the attention of the wider community. “Mount Gilead History & Heritage,” is now in its sixth revised edition, and has sold 875 copies.
His detailed research has “put us all to the test,” Leigh wrote.