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Building on the Past to Shape the Future

Johnson Williams Historical Marker

As part of CHP’s commitment to strengthening communities, CHP has long understood that recognizing and preserving a community’s history and cultural footprint is essential to its long-term vitality and sustainability.

So when CHP Regional Property Manager Adam Watkins was approached by the Josephine Improvement Association to help recognize the historical significance of CHP’s Johnson Williams Apartments in Berryville, Va., he readily agreed to help facilitate the process.

Watkins had some knowledge of Berryville’s Josephine City, which was founded in 1870 when 23 former slaves purchased 31 one acre lots to create an oasis for African Americans in Clarke County. However, the process of erecting a historical marker at Johnson Williams in June proved to be an enjoyable history lesson for the Berryville resident.

Watkins learned that over time, Josephine City became a self-sufficient community, with churches, restaurants, shops, a gas station, and a school.  Built in 1882, the original Josephine City School was part of a school complex for African American children that included the 1930 brick Clarke County Training School and a 1941 frame building that was constructed as additional classrooms.

The Josephine City School was used as an elementary school until 1930, when it was moved a short distance from its original location and used to teach home economics and agriculture to African-American students. In the late 1940s, the school became known as Johnson-Williams High School. After the integration of public schools, it became the Johnson-Williams Intermediate School and served students of all races from 1966 until it closed in 1987.

In 1991, the Johnson-Williams Intermediate School was purchased by CHP and converted into housing for low- to moderate-income elderly residents.

Now called Johnson Williams Apartments, the 40-apartment complex includes such amenities as a community room and outdoor picnic area. In 2012, additional building upgrades were performed by CHP to improve the comfort and efficiency of the rental community.

According to the Valley Preservationist blog site, there were 22 African-American communities in Clarke County, Va., following the Civil War. Regrettably, most of those communities have disappeared from the landscape completely.

“The residents of Josephine City have done an excellent job of sustaining this community and helping educate people about its past. It’s an honor for CHP to help recognize the important role Josephine City School played in the community and we hope to continue that tradition in the future," Watkins said.