The Weaver-Gilison House, and the start of the Affrilachian Trail

By Vanta Coda III, RealWV

On a sunny February day, Jamila Jones stands next to the Weaver-Gilison House off of West Washington St. in Harpers Ferry. This is where Jones wants the Affrilachian Trail Headquarters to be located for her Affrilachian Cultural Trail project.

Jones is a part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s Rural Investment Collaborative, in which she is a part of a 12 week program that helps train her and 20 other rural leaders with different projects providing financial acumen and investment insights to meet certain requirements for possible funding for proposed projects.

Jamila Jones stands at the front of the Weaver-Gillison House on Feb. 9, 2024. James L. “Buck” Weaver and his family played a huge role in supporting Storer College and African American students who attended the college in Harpers Ferry.

The Rural Investment Collaborative is a community of practice working together to help small towns and rural communities thrive by improving their access to capital. The program connects with rural leaders across West Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. 

“They help me and the rest of the cohort learn about financing of a project and how to implement those learning tactics into our community projects,” said Jones. 

Jones’s project is a multi-state Affrilachian Trail that shines a light on historic African American cultural assets along the Appalachian Trail.

“Harpers Ferry is one of the multi-state stops in my project,” said Jones, “I want to take advantage of both the outdoor recreation aspect and the historical aspect of these stops, which would increase economic activity.”

The other towns that are along Jones’ proposed cultural trail are Damascus, VA, and Asheville, NC. 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic Jones came up with the idea for her cultural trail project from not observing many African Americans interacting with the outdoor recreation within her community of Jefferson County.

“That’s where the question arose,” said Jones, “Why aren’t historic communities speaking to black travelers about the Black history here.” 

That is why Jones has supported the initiative to restore the Weaver-Gilison House as a symbol not only to the community of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, but as a stepping stone for other communities along Jones’s proposed Affrilachian Cultural Trail. 

The house is named after the historic figure and entrepreneur, James L. “Buck” Weaver, a local black business leader who made worthy contributions to Storer College. He supported the institution and was vocal against racial prejudices in the Harpers Ferry community and the decision to shutdown the college.

James built the Weaver-Gillison House – the only known commercial building built and owned by a Freeman in Harpers Ferry.

“Buck put his blood, sweat and tears into Storer College all while owning and operating an ice business and raising a family. His enterprising and industrious nature is reflective of many African American historic contributions throughout Appalachia” said Jones. 

Jamila Jones points at the Weaver-Gilison House, while walking back up to West Washington St. in Harpers Ferry on Feb. 9, 2024. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

Jones also hopes in the future to make feeder trail connections leading to her proposed cultural trail to also tell Native American Appalachian history. “I was already thinking big, but the Rural Investment Collaborative said I had to dream 1000 times bigger for my project, and that is what I am doing” said Jones.

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