With help of clicks, Danville lands $150,000 preservation grant

Despite flooding and power outages, Danville managed to remain among the top 10 in a national online voting campaign through its end Friday.

Partners in Preservation — the national campaign’s creators, based in Washington, D.C. — announced Monday that Danville’s project on North Union Street won a $150,000 grant. Partners in Preservation is a partnership between American Express, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Main Street America that supports preserving historic sites

River District Association Executive Director Diana Schwartz called the announcement “truly exhilarating.”

Even though they were going up against cities with populations of hundreds of thousands like Boston, Los Angeles and Baltimore, Schwartz said she was never worried — even when Tropical Storm Michael knocked out power for days, possibly blocking some local online votes.

“We felt very confident from day one. … There’s power in smaller communities,” she said, adding that it was easier to rally a tight-knit community.

Danville accrued the eighth most votes of 20 sites across the country between Sept. 24 and Oct. 26 during the online public voting campaign.

“It truly takes a village, and we have a fantastic one,” she continued.

All $150,000 will go toward revitalizing two sites on the historic street that was once a hub for African-American life in the 20th century — 206 and 208 North Union Street.

Schwartz said the buildings themselves held “architectural and cultural importance” to the community after standing for nearly 100 years.

David Bearinger, director of grants and community programs at the Charlottesville-based Virginia Humanities, worked with Schwartz through History United, based in Danville, to put the project proposal together.

History United is a partnership between different organizations and Virginia Humanities to use history “to strengthen the fabric of community in the Danville region,” explained Bearinger.

Bearinger said securing the grant was in line with the organization’s mission to unite people with history, rather than divide.

“In many places in Virginia, the neighborhoods and the business districts that tell the story of African-American life before integration are disappearing through redevelopment and other forces,” he said. “This grant affirms that the record of African-American life in Danville is worth protecting and preserving.”

Once the buildings are revamped, Schwartz and Bearinger said it will be up to the community to decide what will be hosted inside and if it will harken back to the street’s African-American heritage.

“It comes down to who wants to use them,” said Schwartz.

The buildings will be leased, she said. They’ve already received some interest, but nothing has been decided.

One person has approached them about re-opening a boxing gym in one of the buildings, said Schwartz.

“It would be wonderful to continue on that history,” she said, adding that people have called her about the memories they had on North Union Street.

Ultimately, Bearinger said the grant was a symbol of unity and the community’s willingness to look at its past.

He said, “The fact that this has happened now, I think, is a sign that the Danville community, from my perspective, is really coming together to look at its history and decide where it wants to go.”

Additional Information

Halle Parker reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact her at hparker@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7981.