Willisville is a tiny southwest Loudoun community of 15 houses, but its historic significance may soon get official recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.
Partnering with the Mosby Heritage Area Association, community leaders hope to add the 24-acre Willisville Historic District to the National Register.
The rural hamlet dates back to the Reconstruction era, when former slaves from the Middleburg and Upperville areas bought land from white landowners on which they established a thriving community. The community is named after Henson Willis, a freed slave, who bought three acres near Middleburg soon after the Civil War. There residents built a church, a school and a store—essential components for the network of closely connected family farms surrounding the village.
Spearheading the effort to have Willisville listed on the National Register is Carol Lee, who grew up in the community. Also lending a hand is Mosby board member Dulany Morrison, whose family’s home, Welbourne, has been a fixture in the district since the late 18thcentury.
The footprint of the village of Willisville is still basically the same, although the store is now a residence. While the original church and school is gone, there is a newer stone church, and the 1921 school remains.
The school, one of 15 contributing historic structures located in the district, was built in 1921 to replace the original 1868 one-room schoolhouse that burned in 1917. The frame, gable-ended front elevation and porch had a classroom added to the rear in 1934. It was closed and converted to private use in 1958. Margaret Tracy, now 96, is the oldest living student of the school. Lee’s mother, Anne Lee, now in her 90s, attended the Willisville School, as did four of her children.
Lee, who works for a catering business in Leesburg, became interested in researching the histories of people who lived in Willisville, starting with her own family. Her grandparents arrived in 1935, “so we’ve been here for 83 years,” she said.
Willisville is still predominantly an African-American community and little has changed over the years, according to Lee. She said it’s still a quiet village. “I love it.”
The partnership with the Mosby Heritage Area Association has been fruitful. The MHAA was interested in highlighting the history of the region’s African-American villages, and the Lee family’s history spanned four generations.
Efforts to nominate the district for the National Registry began 14 years ago by the Loudoun County Department of Planning, but resulted in no formal action.
For the new application, Morrison is heading up the formal National Register application process, while Lee conducts the research, poring over old deeds which she has found to be a treasure trove of information. A National Register listing is an honorary designation and confers no benefits or land use restrictions except recognition of a certain level of historic significance.
The effort will require the hiring of a historian to prepare the detailed application. MHAA President Jennifer Moore said the organization already has $10,000 in hand toward the $15,000 goal for the project. A community concert is planned for Aug. 11 at Buchanan Hall in Upperville to raise additional money. “The Path Through Willisville with Carol Lee” event will feature The Gospel Tones of Mt. Olive Baptist Church, The Voices of Agape United Methodist Church, and Sistah of Praise of Middleburg. With the concert, “we should hit the mark, or close to it,” she said.
Once that goal is reached, Morrison estimated it will take up to six months to gather all the material, much of it oral histories, before the package can be presented to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for consideration.
Willisville Benefit Concert
4-6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11
Buchanan Hall, 8549 Mosby Hwy., Upperville
Freewill donations will be collected for the effort to add Willisville to the National Register.