Until 1969, Black residents of Staunton and white residents did not share recreational or public spaces.
White residents enjoyed Gypsy Hill Park and Black residents had Montgomery Hall Park, which was originally built in the early 1820s.
John Howe Peyton built a large mansion in Montgomery Hall Park, and named it after his wife, Ann Lewis Montgomery. A fire destroyed the original structure, but local architect T.J. Collins constructed the current building in 1907.
The land was acquired by the city of Staunton in 1946, and dedicated as a recreational area for Black residents from 1947 to 1969.
Irene Givens led the committee for 25 years that maintained the park starting in 1947. The Administrative Building was named after Givens in 2002.
“I think every year we try to pick a building that’s important to the community,” said GFWC Staunton-Augusta Junior Women’s Club President Ilia Desjardins of the club’s 2023 Christmas tree ornament.
After 30 years of ornaments, the club had not yet honored Staunton’s Black community. This year’s ornament “honors the Black community and the history they have in Staunton,” Desjardins said.
An insert accompanies each ornament and this year’s explains who Givens was and Montgomery Hall Park’s history. The main building named after Givens in 2002 now houses the Staunton Parks & Recreation Department. The Irene Givens Building is available for party and event rental.
“It’s a great park,” Desjardins said.
According to Desjardins, the Staunton-Augusta African American Research Society will dedicate a plaque in Montgomery Hall Park in April 2024.
“We are very excited about [this year’s ornament],” Desjardins said. Last year’s ornament of the entrance gate to Gypsy Hill Park sold out. The club hopes that this year’s ornament also sells out. The funds raised from the sale of this year’s ornament benefit the club’s efforts to support women and children in Staunton and Augusta County.
The club will sell the ornament in-person this evening, Wed., December 6 and Thursday, December 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. at St. John’s United Methodist Church, 1716 N. Augusta Street, Staunton. The ornament will also be for sale at St. John’s UMC on Saturday, December 9 from 9 a.m. to noon. Cash and checks are preferred, but the club can also accept credit card payments.
The ornament is also available online.