JMU in the Community

Remembering Downtown

by Jan Gillis ('07)

Layered photos of the corner of East Elizabeth and Federal Streets, 1962 and 2013

Community conversation continues in "Remembering Place" series

"Remembering Downtown," the second in a series of community conversations sponsored by JMuse Café, will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at the Memorial Hall Forum.

Established by James Madison University Libraries in fall 2011, JMuse Café is an informal and lively forum for students, faculty, staff and the Harrisonburg community to come together and explore topics of public interest.

"Remembering Downtown," follows the success and high turnout for the inaugural  discussion in the "Remembering Place" public dialogue series. The first discussion, "Remembering Newtown," focused on the history of Harrisonburg's development, particularly that of Newtown, an area that, until the 1960's, served as the heart of the city's African-American community.Sponsored by a partnership of civic and educational groups, JMuse's "Remembering Place" is a series of discussions and events focusing on helping citizens consider how to honor Harrisonburg's past, while helping to shape its present and future.

Focus shifts to Harrisonburg Downtown
The next of these discussions, "Remembering Downtown," will continue the conversation about place and community from the first event, shifting focus to the spaces and places that once stood in Harrisonburg's downtown, in and around Court Square. Some of the places to be mentioned include the Virginia Theater, Kavanaugh Hotel, the Municipal Building and the Purcell Home on Elizabeth and Federal Streets.

M&S Restaurant
"Participants in the "Remembering Newtown" discussion had the chance to review historic photographs such as this one of the M & S Restaurant, North Main Street, from 1962  (photograph courtesy of Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority).

Panelists will include Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance Executive Director Eddie Bumbaugh, Virginia Department of Historic Resources Public Relations and Publications Manager Randy Jones, Remembering Downtown Harrisonburg contributor Rhonda Lentz, and Harrisonburg Community Development and Planning representative Donna Rhodes.

"Creating Our Town," Oct. 30
The third discussion in the series, "Creating Our Town," will focus on the future development of Harrisonburg, and will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30, in the Memorial Hall Forum as well.

The fall events will culminate in "Poetry and Place," an evening of poetry and discussion about place, how we define it and how it defines us. Community members, students, and faculty will come together and share their work. This final event will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at Rose Library.

For more information on the upcoming event, visit the JMuse Café website.

Review of "Remembering Newtown" Highlights
Held on Sept. 19 at the Lucy Simms center, "Remembering Newtown" welcomed more than 200 participants from various parts of the Harrisonburg community who came to share their experiences and thoughts on this part of the city's history.

Leading the discussion was Dr. David Ehrenpreis, director of the Institute for Visual Studies and co-planner of the series, as well as a panel of local community leaders and residents. Panelists included Harrisonburg City Council member Charlie Chenault, President of the Northeast Neighborhood Association of Harrisonburg Karen Thomas, Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority Executive Director Michael Wong, and Harrisonburg residents Sarah Sampson and Doris Allen.

To accompany the conversation, the event also featured a series of photographs that captured various buildings and aerial views of the Newtown community. Held by the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority for the past 50 years, this album was taken for value assessment purposes prior to an urban renewal project that led to the leveling of the area.

After an informative talk about the history of Newtown led by Ehrenpreis and personal accounts given by each of the panelists, attendees of the event broke out into what proved to be very lively small group discussions.

For some community members, the conversation was a time to reflect on childhood memories, remembering certain buildings and landmarks that have since disappeared. For others, like Mark Lane, Ebooks Coordinator for JMU Libraries, it was an educational experience, marking a point in history that residents and developers of modern day Harrisonburg can learn from.

"The round table discussions were very lively but respectful, positive and engaging," said Lane. "All throughout the evening the JMuse structure encouraged participants to share names, share stories, share ideas and visions. JMuse is taking very seriously President Alger's charge for JMU to be an engaged university."

Video footage of "Remembering Newtown" is now available here.

Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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