New historical marker along Lynchburg's Blackwater Creek Trail honors 'Father of Lyceums' | Latest News |

2022-07-10 14:47:35 By : Mr. Leo Teng

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A new Virginia historical highway marker honoring Josiah Holbrook was unveiled on the Blackwater Creek Trail on Thursday.

LYNCHBURG—Within earshot of a burbling Blackwater Creek, a historical highway marker honoring Josiah Holbrook, an educator and founder of the American lyceum movement, was unveiled Thursday near the spot where Holbrook lost his life studying what he loved.

In June 1854, Holbrook was doing what he was frequently known to do: studying rocks and minerals along the bluffs of Blackwater Creek, something Lynchburg Museum Director Ted Delaney said was common practice for Holbrook.

Holbrook fell, knocking himself unconscious and drowning in the waters of the creek.

The marker unveiled Thursday aims to do the same thing Holbrook made his lifelong mission: Educate.

“By the 1950s, Holbrook was already a nationally recognized figure for being ‘the Father of Lyceums,’” Delaney said.

The lyceum movement of the 19th century involved a series of organizations that sponsored a variety of rotating educational programs and entertainment. Holbrook was responsible for the first lyceum in the United States, which happened in 1826. Born in Connecticut in 1788, Holbrook was known for creating scientific teaching aids for use in schools and wrote educational articles, some of which were published in daily newspapers at the time.

He spent a majority of his life sponsoring lectures and debates during the lyceum movement in America, but Holbrook didn’t move to Lynchburg until roughly the final six months of his life, in December 1853. He moved to the city to study rocks and minerals and was known for hiking the terrain of the Hill City for upwards of 20 miles at a time, according to Delaney.

“Holbrook was sort of a pied piper of environmental science in Lynchburg,” Delaney said during Thursday’s ceremony. “He was often seen in the forest and fields around Lynchburg, perhaps even in a spot like this, with a group of children following behind him as he talked about the natural world.”

Despite being in Lynchburg for only six months, following his death, Holbrook was buried in Old City Cemetery, where a marble headstone from the 19th century marks his place of rest.

Holbrook’s main interest in Lynchburg was the Hollins Mill Pedestrian Tunnel on the Blackwater Creek Trail due to its geological nature, which is near where the marker is located.

Brooke Haiar, chair of environmental science at University of Lynchburg, said one of the things Holbrook cherished most was garnet.

It can be used to make jewelry as well as other things like sandpaper or drill bits. But Holbrook was interested because of the way it’s formed.

“Garnet ... only forms with intense heat or pressure for thousands and millions of years. We’re talking 300 to 600 degrees Celsius,” Haiar said.

“If you find garnet, it gives you the history of the place we’re standing at right now. Not the 170-year history, but the 500-million year history, all the way back to when this was beachfront property.”

Studying the rocks and minerals of the area was Holbrook’s way of studying its history.

Linda Koch Lorimer, vice president of Yale University, which Holbrook attended, wrote a letter in the program for the ceremony. Lorimer lauded Holbrook for his passion, calling it “contemporary” and saying he “was an early example of an intellectual entrepreneur—and many in so many states were the beneficiaries.”

She added, “The placement of the marker proximate to the site of his fatal accident can serve as a safety reminder to those who walk by the site even as it educates all about his innovations and educational contributions.”

The location for the marker is nontraditional. Usually, historic highway markers are located on the side of a major road or highway where there is ample traffic for people to see the sign.

But Jenny Jones, Lynchburg’s director of parks and recreation, said the amount of traffic on the trail was sufficient to install the marker there, which was important.

“We have, out here now, bicycle counters. And the bike counters showed we had over 600 passers-by per day, which is enough foot traffic for this historical marker to be seen.”

It was integral for the marker to be near the location where Holbrook did the very thing he came to Lynchburg for such a brief period of his life—six months—to do, according to Delaney.

The Holbrook marker is the 71st of its kind in Lynchburg, according to Jane White, who has been a prime mover behind the push for many of the markers around the city.

At-large Lynchburg City Councilman Randy Nelson, who delivered remarks on behalf of city council during Thursday’s ceremony, said of the marker, “It’s located on what once was a major interstate railroad track. And although no cars will come through here ... this railroad was the equivalent of a 19th-century interstate highway.

“So henceforth pedestrians, joggers and runners that pass through this distinctive section of our remarkable trails ... will be able to read about the accomplishments and pioneering achievements that Josiah Holbrook made that day.”

Jane White poses for photos with the new Virginia historical highway marker honoring Josiah Holbrook on the Blackwater Creek Trail on Thursday.

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Jane White poses for photos with the new Virginia historical highway marker honoring Josiah Holbrook on the Blackwater Creek Trail on Thursday.

A new Virginia historical highway marker honoring Josiah Holbrook was unveiled on the Blackwater Creek Trail on Thursday.

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