Mill House Museum Exhibit
Historic Photographs of Occoquan's African-American Community:
Occoquan Celebrates Its Black Community
As part of Occoquan's Virginia 2007 Commemoration, Historic Occoquan, Inc.'s Mill House Museum offered an exhibit highlighting a portion of the town's African-American heritage. Using photographs from the museum's collection, the exhibit focused on three community institutions that developed on lower Washington Street during the twentieth century: Ogle Harris & Sons General Store, Oddfellows Hall, and Ebenezer Baptist Church. The exhibit was a joint effort of Historic Occoquan, Inc. and the Virginia 2007 Commemoration Committee. Established in February to coincide with the Virginia 2007 theme for February, "Black History Month", the exhibit ran through April 30, 2007. Selection portions of the exhibit have been reproduced here. Historic Occoquan, Inc. is indebted to and wishes to extend its appreciation to members of the Harris family who contributed the photographs displayed here to the Mill House Museum collection.
OGLE HARRIS & SONS GENERAL STORE
Ogle Harris & Sons store on Washington Street was an Occoquan institution from about 1910 until 1972, when damage from Hurricane Agnes forced its closure. It opened periodically thereafter during the summer months, but eventually closed for good. The photograph below from the Mill House Museum's collection shows Ogle Harris and his son Arthur standing inside the store among meats, vegetables, canned goods, fishing supplies, and penny candy.
In a 1999 oral history, Saluka Toliver, Ogle's daughter, remembers that in the early days a crackling wood stove warmed the store, and customers would congregate there on cold winter afternoons. In the 1950s a large bench sat next to the front door, providing a place to rest and watch the activity on Washington Street.
The son of slaves, Ogle Harris and his family once lived in the four room building that later became the store, until eventually moving into a larger home on Washington and Commerce Streets. Saluka recalls that before opening the store her father sold ice cream at the Oddfellows Hall next to Ebenezer Baptist Church, using a huge hand-cranked machine. After moving the family into their new home, Ogle Harris expanded his business to
include groceries and the store became a thriving part of the Occoquan business community. Unlike other food stores in town, Ogle Harris accepted purchases on credit, keeping the transactions in a spiral bound notebook. After Ogle's death, Arthur continued to run the store for a time with his wife Doris and sister Saluka.
EBENEZER BAPTIST CHURCH
A former slave, Reverend Lewis Bailey, founded Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1883. It was the first church in the area with a black congregation. At the time the cornerstone was laid, there were more than a hundred black families living in or near Occoquan, many of them born free even during the time of slavery. Reverend Bailey himself was freed at the end of the Civil War at the age of twenty-one. He also established Summit Elementary School for the black children of the Occoquan area. Ebenezer Church held its baptisms in the Occoquan River until Reverend Bailey's death in 1936. The church building burned in 1923, but was quickly rebuilt on the site by members of the church and the community. By 1924 it had been totally restored. In 2000, the congregation moved to a larger church building newly constructed on Minnieville Road. The beautiful old building still stands on Washington Street.
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