Two of the most prominent—and congested—monuments to racist and Confederate figures in Loudoun will be renamed to their historic monikers following a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Rt. 7, named for segregationist lawmaker and state governor Harry Byrd Sr., will be renamed to Leesburg Pike, and Rt. 50, named for Confederate Col. John Singleton Mosby, will be renamed Little River Turnpike. Both are names those roads had before. Final authority to approve the changes lies with the state’s Commonwealth Transportation Board.
“I want to express my deep gratitude that we are changing names of Route 7 and 50. The names of these roads were changed decades ago to honor people who should not be honored, people who would not want me sitting here today,” said Supervisor Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run), a Black woman. “I’m glad we’re returning to the original names of the roads, as they make both practical and historical sense for our county.”
Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) said the cost of that renaming—estimated around $621,000 to replace the road signs—is a worthy use of taxpayer dollars.
“Taxpayer dollars were used during Jim Crow, during the ‘60s, all the way into the ‘80s, to name these roads after folks that, in my opinion, didn’t deserve it, and they were renamed as a way to remind citizens of Loudoun County of their oppression, that maybe certain citizens don’t belong,” Briskman said. “So I’m very happy and proud that we are using some of our resources to rectify that situation.”
“I will say that there have been very valid questions asked, and I think the most valid question is, how will that impact the business owners on Rt. 50? Because that’s … their address of their business. And that name is on—that address is on trucks and business cards and all kinds of things,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “And we are addressing that so that … it does not cost the business owners money.”
Supervisors’ vote to rename the roads also directed county staff members to develop a grant program to offset those costs for businesses.
In 1968, at the height of the civil rights movement, the Virginia State Highway Commission renamed Rt. 7 between Alexandria and Winchester to honor Byrd, who led “massive resistance” to close Virginia’s public schools rather than integrate them.
Today in Fairfax it already has that name again. Currently, the road named Harry Byrd Highway from the Shenandoah River to Loudoun’s eastern border. That also means that if only the Loudoun section is renamed, there will remain a section of road just under three miles long still named for Byrd in Clarke County. Ultimately that decision, too, will fall to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
It was only in 1980 that the General Assembly named Rt. 50 for Mosby, reenacting that decision in 1982. That highway follows the path of a trail first made by Native Americans and expanded upon by colonists over the centuries; it was first named Little River Turnpike in 1806.
The work sprung out of an initiative approved in December 2020. A few months before, the statue of a Confederate soldier that stood before the county courthouse had been taken down. Supervisors on Dec. 15, 2020, voted to find and list Confederate and segregationist symbols in Loudoun, at the same time starting the process of naming the two highways. At the time, Supervisors Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) voted against doing that work. Buffington was absent for the vote Tuesday; Kershner voted in favor of the changes.
That vote last December launched a process that formed an advisory committee, gathered public suggestions and feedback, put county staff members to work doing historic research, and led to debates about how the roads should be renamed resulting in the recommendation to simply restore their previous names.
At least one more likely renaming remains—Kephart Bridge Landing, a canoe and kayak launch in Elizabeth Mills Riverfront Park, is named for George Kephart, who owned both Coton and Belmont plantations for a period of time and who became wealthy working in the slave trade. The Parks, Recreation and Open Space Board has recommended renaming it to Riverpoint Drive Trailhead, which supervisors were scheduled to discuss on Tuesday but deferred to Jan. 18.