A joint effort between Spotsylvania County, the National Park Service and Rivanna Archaeological Services of Charlottesville, this 75-mile driving tour along the scenic country roads of Spotsylvania traces the history of African Americans in the county from the time of their arrival in the early 1700s as enslaved men and women through the Civil War and Emancipation. The trail shares African Americans' building of churches, schools and new lives as free men and women.

The tour begins at the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center that houses a museum featuring exhibits tracing African American history in Spotsylvania. The tour includes a stop at the ruins of the Chancellor House where enslaved men and women escaped during the Battle of Chancellorsvile to cross the Union line and into freedom.

The churches on the tour include Mount Olive Baptist Church that was built by local African American families shortly after the war and features a spring that has been flowing for over a century and continues to serve the community today.

The schools on the tour include the original Piney Branch one-room schoolhouse as well as a recreated one-room schoolhouse exhibit at the Marshall Center. The John J. Wright Museum is itself housed in the high school that educated African American children in Spotsylvania from 1909 to 1968 during the time of segregation.

An exhibit on the trail details the deployment of U.S. Colored Troops during the battles of The Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Sixteen members of the USCT serving at these battles were Spotsylvania natives. The story of Buffalo Soldier, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient and Spotsylvania native Sgt. Benjamin Brown is also shared here.

You can download the trail map, site information and brochure of the African American Heritage Trail, or pick up printed guides at the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center. You will need to allow three hours to complete the entire driving tour. The tour passes by Lake Anna State Park , where there are lots of hiking trails and other recreational opportunities if you want to stretch your legs. Lake Anna Winery also lies along the tour and is a great place to stop and relax for a tasting and a glass of wine.

Pictured at the top: The ca. 1866-1868 Mount Olive Baptist Church in Spotsylvania was built by three newly-freed African American families.

African American families lived in simple cabins like the one pictured in this 1864 drawing by Edwin Forbes.  (Library of Congress)