Onancock blacksmith shop will be museum of black history

(Delmarvanow.com) -- A rare, completely intact blacksmith shop in Onancock is on its way to becoming a museum where children and adults can learn about a bygone era on the Eastern Shore of Virginia — and about an important figure in the region's black history.

The board of directors of the Samuel D. Outlaw Blacksmith Shop Museum proposes to restore the shop on Boundary Avenue, and to turn it into a museum and community gathering place that will promote awareness of the contributions of African-Americans to the region.

The shop, built by Outlaw in the early 1900s, was operated until the early 1990s by Outlaw.

Outlaw's family gave the property to Onancock to serve as a museum, after he died in 1994 at age 95.

"It is thought to be one of the best-preserved blacksmith shops in the Commonwealth," said Gerald Boyd, board of directors chairman.

Boyd on Monday updated the Onancock Town Council about plans for the museum.

He called the building's condition "poor, but repairable," with an estimated cost of $15,000 to $20,000 to make needed repairs.

The blacksmith shop first came to Boyd's attention through Frances B. Latimer's book, "Landmarks: Historic Sites on the Eastern Shore of Virginia."

Boyd, a Northampton County native and certified counselor, life coach and mediator who returned to the Eastern Shore recently, later met Onancock Mayor Russell Jones at a charity event, and during their conversation Boyd volunteered to help resume the process of developing the historic site.

A nonprofit corporation was created in February and the board of directors was put in place in May. The group has created a mission statement and developed a strategic plan, Boyd told council members.

The first phase of the plan, including assessment of the building and its contents, has been completed. The contents, including Outlaw's tools and equipment, were inspected by a working blacksmith, then inventoried and stored.

Additionally, the nonprofit group signed a five-year lease with the town of Onancock in September. PNC Bank in October awarded the group a $2,500 grant to develop a website and other marketing material.

The group also is creating a curriculum around the blacksmith shop's history.

"Specifically, a relationship has been established with the school systems of the two counties on the Eastern Shore to reconnect black and white children, youth and adults with living history, to understand some of the ways of life in the past,  and how those ways have shaped our present and our future," Boyd said.

A second phase of the project involves fundraising. The initial goal is to raise $57,000 to get the building operational — and to raise $7,000 of that amount by January, Boyd said.

Memorial benches, commemorative bricks for a walkway and souvenir sales are in the works as ways to raise the money.

A workday at the site Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is being planned to help achieve a third phase of the plan — physical improvement of the building and grounds.

The fourth phase involves designing and creating exhibits inside the museum, including display of Outlaw's tools and other artifacts, and training of staff.

The goal is for the museum to open by spring 2019, when a dedication ceremony is planned, Boyd said.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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