Lower End of E. Davis, Commerce Streets
— Town of Culpeper, Virginia —
The area to the south was the center of commerce in the early 1900's. It was here that retail shops, repair shops, hardware stores, restaurants, hotels and services flourished. In this era, blacks owned and operated nearly half the businesses in the Town, and both white and black Americans conducted business here.
From a historical perspective, The Wharf is a sub area of Downtown Culpeper, located at the lower end of E. Davis Street. Around 1900, the Wharf was known for its busy shipping activity, commercial businesses, churches, hotels, restaurants, and services. These businesses were predominately owned and operated by Black Americans. According to a local historian, Black American businesses flourished in part because they allowed whites and blacks to purchase goods and services "on credit"—a practice that was unusual for the time. As a rule, credit was not offered to blacks or poor whites in many localities. "In all they were the Town's entrepreneurs; they had no banks to borrow from."
To the south of the Wharf is the historical area known as "Fishtown," which occupied Commerce Street, Waters Place and Locust Street. "Fishtown" got its name from Friday and Saturday fish fries on open fires. Black American businessmen in this area were sought after for their goods, services and talents, with thriving businesses and shops. Although several homes existed in the area of "Fishtown," the majority of blacks resided in nearby enclaves, such as Tin Cup Alley (E. Spencer Street), Whipple Alley (E. Chandler Street), Slabtown (Old Fredericksburg Road), Jeffrey Town (N. Commerce Street), and Sugar Bottom (West Street / Locust Street).
Then and Now.
Like other small communities, Culpeper's Downtown experienced a decline in the mid-1900's. Retail businesses suffered, buildings and infrastructure deteriorated and investment went elsewhere. In the late 1980's, the Code of Virginia classified this area as "slums and blight." The Town received a grant funded in part by the Virginia Community Development Block Grant program, which provided the catalyst for rehabilitation and redevelopment of the area.
Today, this area is listed in both the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register and is an integral part of the Town's Historic District.
Culpeper continues to attract more visitors each year. It is important that Culpeper's Black American presence in this area be known and appreciated.
(photo caption) Lightfoot's Grocery.
Mr. Henry Lightfoot (1845-1931) owned and operated Lightfoot's Grocery on East Davis Street, in the 1870's. Mr. Henry Lightfoot also served on the Town Council in the 1880's. In the early 1900's, the store expanded and relocated across the street to 254-258 East Davis Street and was owned and operated by Mr. Lightfoot's son, Mr. J.E.R. Lightfoot.
Approximately 100 years later, the lower end of East Davis Street has been rehabilitated and returned as a vibrant—yet quaint—place to live and work for residents, businesses and visitors.
Special thanks to: Culpeper Parking Authority, Culpeper Town Council, Johnson Lane, Harrison Lightfoot and the Lightfoot family, William & Rosie Marle Martin, Museum of Culpeper History, Department of Tourism.