Dr. Barnas Sears, a career educator and Baptist minister, was nearly 65 years old in 1867 when he resigned as president of Brown College in Providence, Rhode Island, and moved to Staunton.
He became the agent of the Peabody Educational Fund created by George Peabody of Massachusetts to dispense funds throughout the Southern and Southwestern states to establish free public education after the Civil War.
From the frame Victorian cottage constructed on the hill overlooking the train station, Dr. Sears travelled across much of the nation from Virginia to Texas for 13 years making grants to schools of over $3.4 million "for the intellectual, moral, or industrial education among the young."
Sears House(NOTE: This house is a private residence and not part of the park.)
This board-and-batten house was constructed in 1866 by Dr. Robert Madison and sold in the next year to Barnas Sears who added the tower. The dwelling reflects the influence of the picturesque cottage and villa designs of the 19th century horticulturist, A. J. Downing. His nationally published work in 1850, The Architecture of Country Houses, widely popularized this new style of domestic building in America. This example was constructed in the Tuscan villa style of a bracketed cottage.
Sears Hill NeighborhoodThe
Sears Hill Neighbbrhood largely developed over a 65-year-span. Period newspapers recount stories of community celebrations punctuated by bonfires and cannon shots from Sears Hill. In the early 19th century, the area was also noted as Garber's Hill, Stuart's Hill, and Oak Hill. Early homes belonged to Barnas Sears, Newton Argenbright, and J.J. Lad. Surrounding properties were owned and later developed in three distinct periods by prominent Staunton landowners Jedediah Hotchkiss, Alexander H.H. Stuart, Captain G.G. Gooch, Captain James and Caroline Marquis, and H.L. Partlow.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the lots and streets of Sears Hill took shape upon subdivision and sale of larger land holdings. The neighborhood developed with a grid pattern of streets, bounded by brick sidewalks and alleyways. Constructed mostly of wood frame, the homes are vernacular adaptations of popular architectural styles. Shingle clad gables, hip roofs with bracketed eaves, clapboard siding, and single-story porches with turned-and pattern-sawn balustrades all relate to Victorian styles.
As noted in the 1885 Historical Atlas of Augusta County, Virginia, engineers, auctioneers, printers, teachers, watchmakers, carpenters, cigar makers and policemen occupied the homes in the neighborhood. During this period, small groceries, churches, and a volunteer fire company all
were established specifically serving Sears Hill. Between 1910 and 1929, Sears Hill experienced its final phase of development with the subdivision of the Marquis property and construction of bungalow and foursquare styled homes.
Woodrow ParkThis four acre wooded hillside was purchased by the City of Staunton in 1927 for approximately $9,000 and included the historic Sears House. A local citizen, Charles Catlett, previously encouraged the City to purchase the Sears Hill property to he acquired as a possible future school site. He had deeded the Betsy Bell property to the City to be used as a public park and his family was very interested and involved in several similar civic projects.
By 1936, the City had cleared some of the acreage for a playground and in the 27th Annual Report of the City of Staunton, the area was known as Woodrow Park for the first time in local records.
It is unclear how the park was named, but there are two local theories. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who was born in Staunton, was the son of Rev. Joseph Ruggles Wilson and Jessie Woodrow Wilson. Her maiden name of Woodrow became the middle name of President Thomas Woodrow Wilson and might be the inspiration for the park's name. However, the word "woodrow" also means "row of trees" and would be appropriate for the large stand of great oak trees within the park.
Historical information from files of Historic Staunton Foundation and the City of Staunton Department of Parks & Recreation.
· Sanborn Map image courtesy of EDR, Shelton, CN
· Text Edits by Katharine Brown & Nancy Sorrells
· Plaque design by Frazier Associates, Architects & Planners.