Community Connectors

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“Rebuilding trust between Northeast Neighborhood residents and the City, repairing past harms, and reconnecting today’s Northeast Neighborhood to the heart of the city are our most important goals. We commit to prioritizing the needs, wants, and desires of Northeast Neighborhood community members as we scope potential future investments in the community.”

~ Harrisonburg Community Connectors Vision Statement


Harrisonburg was selected in September 2023 to be the recipient of a Community Connectors Program grant through national nonprofit Smart Growth America and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The community’s team is led by the Northeast Neighborhood Association, Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and City government. Intentional outreach to residents, businesses, and community groups in and surrounding the Northeast Neighborhood will be supported by grant funding, allowing the team to actively engage with and empower individuals, families and organizations to share their stories and needs in order to create a Small Area Plan for the Northeast Neighborhood.

This effort will be an inclusive, community-driven planning process with the goal of establishing a Small Area Plan with recommended tangible actions to achieve the Northeast Neighborhood’s vision. The Small Area Plan will provide the basis for future land use and transportation planning, urban design, investment decisions in capital projects and programs, and services (such as those related to small businesses, housing, recreation, and others identified through this process) and changes to zoning laws. This plan will be appended to the Comprehensive Plan, and intended to guide community leaders, residents, institutions, community-based organizations, City staff, property owners, and developers.


Upcoming Community Connectors Events & Information Sessions

  • Saturday, June 22 - First Baptist Church Festival, 611 Broad Street
  • Tuesday, August 6 - National Night Out in the Northeast Neighborhood
  • Saturday, September 14 - Harrisonburg Rockingham African American Festival

More events to be announced soon!


History Of The Northeast Neighborhood: From Newtown To Urban Renewal

Riverbank, an 18th-century Virginia Riverfront plantation, was built by Col. William Burbridge Yancey (1803-1858) on over 35 acres along the Shenandoah River. In the 1850 census, it states that Yancey owned 14 slaves. Birth records state that Ambrose and Reuben Dallard, mulatto twin brothers, were born on June 14, 1866, to father Ambrose and mother Harriet. They spent the first 33 years of their lives laboring on the Riverbank. Upon hearing of the impending signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Dallard brothers decided to escape and later return for their families. The mistress of the plantation aided the brothers because having them onsite was a constant reminder of the harsh realities of sexual exploitation on plantations. They fled to Anne Arundel County in Maryland and joined the Union Army. When the Civil War ended, they returned to Rockingham County, retrieved their families, and settled in the Lacey Spring area known as Little Africa, Athens, and eventually Zenda.

On September 9, 1869, William and Hannah Carpenter deeded a sizeable tract east of land Lacey Spring on Fridley Gap Road to John Watson, Henry Frazier, and Reuben Dallard, trustees for the Virginia Conference of the Church for the United Brethren in Christ, for $30, to build a church, burial ground, and schoolhouse. Jacob Long, a nearby landowner and postmaster, oversaw the construction of a one-room chapel that stood 20 feet by 30 feet with two windows on each side. In addition to volunteering his time and labor, many believe that Mr. Long paid for much of the construction out of his own pocket. This may explain why grateful residents later referred to the new house of worship as “Long’s Chapel.” Henry Carter, Milton Grant, William Timbers, and Richard Fortune became the first freedmen to settle in the community. In 1882, Rockingham County built the “Athens School” in Zenda in order to provide additional space for the growing community. Unfortunately, a decline in population forced the school to close its doors in 1925. The remaining residents were then forced to travel south to Harrisonburg in order to attend the all-black Effinger Street School. By the turn of the century, Zenda had grown into a vibrant community with over 80 residents, a post office, a schoolhouse, a chapel, and a cemetery.

In 1869, months after purchasing land in Zenda, Ambrose Dallard purchased lots in the Crismon settlement in Rockingham County. The Rockingham County deed book states he made a $50 deposit with a promise to make two additional payments in October 1870 and 1871. Ambrose Dallard paid in full on October 27, 1870.  Meanwhile, Reuben Dallard and William Johnson moved to Harrisonburg in the same year. Johnson had been enslaved in Madison County and sold to the Yancey’s at Riverbank. Having lived together for years, Johnson and Dallard formed a formidable friendship.

Best friends married sisters Amanda and Harriet. Reuben Dallard purchased for $80 lot 57 and ½ of lot 58 in the Jacob A. Zirkle addition in Harrisonburg, which became known as Newtown. Dallard paid a $40 deposit and promised to pay the remainder of the purchase price in 3 installments on Sept 18th of 1870, 1871, and 1872. Dallard paid the remaining balance full in 1871. Johnson and his sons purchased property on Johnson Street and built homes. The former enslaved men had defied all stereotypes and had become landowners, signifying success. Newtown was annexed by the City of Harrisonburg around 1892. 

The Housing Act of 1949, a pivotal moment in the history of urban development, also known as the Taft-Ellender-Wagner Act, provided federal loans to cities like Harrisonburg to acquire and clear slum areas. These areas were then sold to private developers for redevelopment in accordance with a plan prepared by the city. The act also granted funds to cover two-thirds of the city’s costs in excess of the sale prices received from the developers and provided millions of dollars to create public housing throughout the country. In the 1950s, Harrisonburg, like many other cities, embarked on a mission to eradicate and replace the old with the new, leading to a better tomorrow for the nation’s cities. Advertisements for a better tomorrow were littered with promises of green spaces, rooftop gardens, and removing boundaries between interior and exterior spaces. This led to the ‘The City with the Planned Future’ slogan. The city’s leaders, including Mayor Lawrence Loewner and Mayor Frank Switzer, played key roles in this transformation, securing significant aid for two extensive city projects.

The “Harrisonburg Northeast Urban Renewal Project R-4,” as it was formally referred to in city documents, and its smaller tag-on, Project R-16, changed the fabric of the city’s Black community. The Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA), which now owns and operates more than 250 subsidized and income-restricted rental units and administers the housing choice voucher (“Section 8”) program, was initially established in 1955 in order to execute the project. Project R-4 intended to address the acute housing crisis by removing blighted housing in the Newtown area. The positive results  were claimed to be increased tax revenue, new commercial development, and blighted housing replaced with new low-income housing. Project R-16 was intended to address the vision of a future dependent on automobile travel, parking needs, and the need for a transit-type facility. The positive results were claimed to address the need to revitalize the downtown business district and provide more accessibility to automobiles with modernized widened streets and expanded parking, which would attract shoppers to downtown. The Urban Renewal concept evolved alongside the Interstate 81 Cloverleaf design projects. The Interstate project was designed to usher travelers easily into a community for economic purposes and quickly return them to their travels.

The razing of homes in downtown and the creation of the Mason Street corridor pushed many residents further into the northeast section of  the city. Caught up in this effort were homeowners who had worked and struggled to pay off a mortgage in order to own something to pass on to their children. These homes could never be described as blighted or slums. These were the homes with the manicured lawns, well-tended flowers and in some cases wrap around porches. Also destroyed were a number of black-owned businesses, including the Colonnade, which had a dance hall, restaurant, barbershop and poolroom.

Projects R-4 and R-16 resulted in the displacement of 166 families from downtown Harrisonburg. These traumatic events led to a lack of trust in government officials and the Mason Street corridor became a visible and mental separation of the Northeast community from the downtown area. Project R-4 and R-16 created streets and intersections not conducive to safe and convenient travel, and disconnected the Northeast Neighborhood from the center of Harrisonburg.