African American Heritage Trail offers a scenic drive through Spotsylvania's past
Standing in the peace of the Spotsylvania countryside along Piney Branch Road, step out of your car and ponder the history of a white clapboard building, situated among a cemetery and churchyard, and begin to imagine all the events and people that were housed between its walls a century ago.
This building, known as the Piney Branch one-room school, is one of the few one-room schoolhouses for African American children still standing on its original location. The neighboring Piney Branch Baptist Church purchased the land for the school for $10 in 1878 for the purpose of educating African American children who lived in the area and attended the church.
Piney Branch was one of four African American schools in the Chancellor District of Spotsylvania, and today it is one of 12 stops on the Spotsylvania African American Heritage Trail. This web-based driving tour combines GIS maps with archived photos and historical information to offer a one-of-a-kind overview of African American history in the county.
The trail starts at the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center, where you can dig deep into the story of the civil rights struggle in Spotsylvania. Along the way, you’ll drive scenic, winding country roads and learn a few things you probably didn’t realize about Spotsylvania.
For example, did you know that the land that is now beneath the waters of Lake Anna was the home of the third-largest gold mine in the United States between 1830 and 1849? A plaque about the mine at the modern-day Chewning Park will give you a glimpse at this slice of history. (You can also learn more about the area’s gold rush at Lake Anna State Park.)
Not far from Piney Branch Baptist Church, the 23rd U.S. Colored Infantry engaged the Second Ohio Cavalry in the first known fight on Virginia soil of a full U.S. colored regiment within the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War.
The trail has ties to many other avenues of exploring Spotsylvania. It includes several churches, including the Little Mine Road Baptist Church, the first African American Church established in the county. Spotsylvania’s churches have a wealth of history, which you can learn more about here.
The African American Heritage Trail also includes several sites within the historic Spotsylvania Courthouse district. To explore this district more on foot, point your browser to the Spotsylvania Courthouse Walking Tour.
All of these tours will get you out into this charming part of the Fredericksburg region. Should you need a pit stop along the way, consider adding a stop at the Courthouse Café, Lake Anna Winery or Harvest Market to your list.
A ribbon-cutting for Spotsylvania’s African American Heritage Trail will be held June 20, 2015, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center. Learn more about the event here.