Life in the Neighborhood
Memories of Newtown
Newtown, in the northeast corner of Harrisonburg, was a familiar tangle of streets for the African American community that lived there. Current residents remember it as a place abundant with fruit trees and gardens, bursting with flowers, though missing sidewalks. It was a community that lacked material comforts, but made up for it with strong relationships. Everyone knew everyone, and people looked out for each other. Newtown was home.
"The northeast community joined together in the bitter or the sweetness of our lives." -Doris Harper Allen
Newtown as It Was
The Lucy F. Simms School was at the center of Newtown, a neighborhood with a lively mixture of homes and businesses. If you took a stroll around Newtown, you would find an ice cream parlor, grocery stores like Miss Lena's, restaurants like Johnson's and the Chicken Shack, pubs, and barbershops like Tankins' and Rose’s. There were also tearooms, where patrons dressed up for elegant afternoons, and the famous Colonnade, where there was a pool hall, a dance hall, and an arcade.
Alongside the Lucy F. Simms School, the local churches were at the center of community life. People would walk from all over town to attend services at Bethel AME Church, John Wesley United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church, and the Mennonite Mission. Ladies, gentlemen, and children all arrived in their Sunday best. The community gathered together on this day to worship, no matter the distance they had to travel. For church members who were too sick to attend, their names would be included in the program and remembered in the service.
“Sunday people wore their hats, they had white gloves; they were dressed to perfection.” -Ruth M. Toliver
The majority of Newtown's social gatherings took place in homes around the neighborhood, and festive lawn parties were often held in people's yards. Lawn parties were known for their bright string lights, singers, homemade ice cream, country ham sandwiches, and good company. Newtown residents also spent summer days relaxing at community spaces like Harris Pool, built thanks to the vision and fundraising leadership of Mr. Kent Frances, a local African American businessman. Ruth M. Toliver describes her "fondest memories of growing up" as "memories of Harrisonburg.... It was just one of the communities where you felt safe."
Following is a gallery of related images.