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New owners vow to preserve important historic home

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A historic West Virginia home that played an important role in the area’s African American history is changing hands as a way of continuing to preserve it.
The Webb-Blessing House was the only residence owned by a free African-American family living in Charles Town before the Civil War, The Journal reports. Since 2003, it had been owned by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society. When group members decided they were no longer able to take care of it, Friends of Webb-Blessing House stepped forward to help. The property officially changed hands on Friday.
Doug Perks is chair of the Friends group’s steering committee. He told the paper they will maintain the building and tell its story. That includes the story of the Webbs, a free African-American family that built the house before the Civil War and continued to live in it until 1866, when it was purchased by John Frederick Blessing, Perks said.
Blessing was a confectioner who supplied meals to John Brown after Brown was incarcerated in the Jefferson County Jail, Perks said. As a thank you gift, Brown gave Blessing a Bible he had with him in jail.
The Blessings continued to occupy the house until 1974, when Ollie Blessing had to move into a nursing home. She had taught a white kindergarten class in the house, but Jim Taylor, president of the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society, said she would also invite African American children into the house to study with the white children.
“You have to remember, this was during segregation,” he said. “We would be right there in that room together. She would read to us sometimes, and she would tell us about her grandfather with John Brown.”
Taylor said he believes the house is in good hands with Friends of Webb-Blessing House.
“I think they’re going to do an excellent job,” he said, adding that he has known Perks for many years.
Perks said to keep the house maintained, Friends of Webb-Blessing House will need volunteers and financial support.
“Right now, we’re not quite sure what the operational budget will be, but you got to pay insurance on a property like this,” he said. “You got to pay electricity. We got to have water. All of those bills come to be due on a monthly basis.”