Each year on the Saturday closest to the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation the community gets together in celebration of this special and important event. The purpose is to honor the memory of the Loudoun County Emancipation Association. The Association at one time owned the land that the Blue Ridge Bible Church now owns and is known as the Emancipation Grounds. The Purcellville Preservation Association, with the support of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Deborah Lee, Elaine Thompson, Sue Kane and other community leaders and members of the community erected an historic marker signifying the importance of the Grounds at the entrance site.
History of the Loudoun County Emancipation Association and the Emancipation Grounds
The Loudoun County Emancipation Association was organized in Hamilton, Virginia in 1890. It was the first countywide African American controlled organization in Loudoun. In addition to celebrating emancipation, the Loudoun County Emancipation Association had as its mission "to establish a bond of union among persons of the Negro race; to provide for the celebration of the 22nd day of September as Emancipation Day or the Day of Freedom; to cultivate good fellowship; to work for the betterment of the race, educationally, morally and materially."
They chose to celebrate September 22 to commemorate the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 as a warning to states in rebellion that all enslaved people in those states would be freed on January 1, 1863. The early celebrations were held on land rented from Quaker farmers. Activities at the celebrations included parades, memorial services, pageants, musical performances, games and various vendors. The Highlight of the day was a speech by a noted orator.
The Association incorporated on January 17, 1910. The next day, the Loudoun County Emancipation Association, Inc. bought ten and one-half acres of land situated between Purcellville and Telegraph Springs from Eli and Eliza Birdsall for $1250. They named their property Lincoln Park, but it immediately became known as "The Emancipation Grounds."
The Loudoun County Emancipation Association prospered, reaching its peak in the 1920s and the 1930s. A log cabin office and a tabernacle that seated 1200 people were built on the property. The celebrations became larger with nationally known speakers and crowds estimated as high as five-thousand. When the property was not being used by the Association, it was rented to other organizations for religious revivals, conferences, pageants, horse and pony shows, school activities and baseball games.
Contrary to what the Association had expected, the era that marked the beginning of the greatest improvements in the lives of African Americans was also the beginning of a sharp decline in the influence and popularity of the Loudoun County Emancipation Association. World War II, the civil rights movement, the decline in the African American population in Loudoun all impacted the Association.
The final celebration was held in 1967, and the property was sold in 1971.The historic marker was installed at the entrance to the Loudoun County Emancipation Association Grounds in 2000. The property is now owned by Blue Ridge Bible Church which has pledged to honor the memory of the Loudoun County Emancipation Association.