From the 1870s to the 1970s, a bustling African American business district flourished in the town of Orange, Va. The southeastern quadrant of Orange was home to a variety of successful Black-owned businesses, including retail establishments, entertainment venues, and service-related businesses, such as a taxi service and a barbershop.
The neighborhood was also an area where Black residents lived and worshipped, building churches and homes, and creating a thriving community that drew visitors from all over Virginia’s Orange County.
But all of that changed in the 1970s, when the Federal government appropriated land in the neighborhood to build the Route 15 Bypass and South Madison Road.
“The negative effect of this ‘improvement’ was immediate,” says Deb Ellis, 2022 President of the Fredericksburg Area Association of REALTORS®. “The majority of the African American-owned businesses either closed or relocated elsewhere.”
Now, a coalition of government and nonprofit organizations in Orange, including FAAR, has come together to create a benevolent public space—a commemorative park that will offer a view of the two remaining African American churches in the town, and feature a series of interpretive markers recounting the history of the neighborhood and the people who once lived and worked there. The finished park will also include seating, landscaping, and statuary, and will provide a gathering place for reflection and inspiration.
FAAR received a Placemaking Grant from the National Association of REALTORS® in 2021 to help support the park, and Ellis hopes the new community gathering space will also serve as a catalyst for economic development. The plan is to attract new business that will aid in revitalizing the area while preserving the historic character of the neighborhood.
“We really love this grant which allows us to engage on issues not directly related to real estate but key to strengthening our communities,” says Ellis.
Over 100 people, including staff and members of FAAR, attended the park’s ground-breaking ceremony on February 28, and REALTORS® will be active in the building and finishing of the park. In addition, several REALTORS® are also members of the Virginia Mainstreet Program, which has taken an active role in the discussion around the project since the beginning.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for Juneteenth (https://www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth)—the date of the park’s projected completion.
“This has been an amazing project to watch unfold,” says Ellis. “Orange County is a relatively new addition to the FAAR footprint and being able to point to this project really shows those agents that we care about their community and are willing to invest in it.”