The Homecoming at Montgomery Hall Park will take place on Saturday, July 13 from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m. with proceeds from the sale of food and beverages at this free event benefiting the African-American Heritage Festival. I look forward to sharing details of Montgomery Hall’s rich and diverse history there from 12:30-1:30. I am also working with Jenny Jones, Superintendent of Recreation at Staunton Parks and Recreation to create a visual timeline of the history of the land, the plantation, the two houses, and all of the people who lived and worked there to be displayed at the Homecoming. Last Wednesday Jenny and I worked together to confirm recent details that have emerged in my research and will now be included when published as John Howe Peyton’s Montgomery Hall.
I know of no other park property that can trace its history from a plantation made successful by the efforts of the enslaved African-American people who lived there between 1822 and 1865 to a park created as a haven for and run by the African-American community in Staunton from 1946 to 1978. The nearly 150 acre core tract of land that comprises the present park was formerly known as the Montgomery Hall Farm tract, a portion of the 820 acre Montgomery Hall Plantation, well-known as the seat of the Honorable John Howe Peyton and named as a tribute to his young wife, Ann Montgomery Lewis, a great-granddaughter of John Lewis, founder of Staunton and Augusta County. Peyton and subsequent owners, William J. Shumate, William W. Donaghe, Henry D. Peck, Emma and Frank Walter, Bates Warren, John A. Kennedy, D. D. Chidester, and Alexander C. Thomas each left their mark as owners of the property and all share in Montgomery Hall’s history.
John Howe Peyton’s original Montgomery Hall residence, completed in 1824, was totally destroyed by fire on February 11, 1906 during the Walter family’s ownership. Recently, I discovered documents relating to a previously unknown renovation of and addition to the original house that have provided invaluable information for my book. It was long believed that the present Montgomery Hall was a combination of original and new construction. This is not the case. Both the design for the 1903 renovation and addition and the design of the new house were by T. J. Collins & Son, with the actual work completed by local contractors and sub-contractors under the Collins firm’s supervision. The present Montgomery Hall, completed in the spring of 1907, was built on the site of the former residence and includes features of the original house.
At the Homecoming, I will share the early history of Montgomery Hall as a mostly self-sufficient agricultural community, the crops and livestock raised on the farm, plantation operations, and the database I have created of the previously unknown enslaved African-American people associated with John Howe Peyton and William J. Shumate. There have been many owners and caretakers of the Montgomery Hall property, but the one constant spanning the years from slavery through segregation was the local African-American community’s connection to the land.