While the county Board of Supervisors and the town councils in Leesburg and Round Hill have lined up behind the plan to rename Rt. 7 as Leesburg Pike, Purcellville is taking a different direction.
On Tuesday night, the Town Council voted to request the Commonwealth Transportation Board to rename the short section of the highway that passes through the town boundaries as the Billy Pierce Memorial Pike.
County leaders initiated the effort to change the name from Harry Byrd Highway as part of a broader initiative to remove the names associated with racism or the Confederacy from public roads, buildings, and parks.
After months of study, a task force appointed by the county board recommended Rt. 7 be renamed as Leesburg Pike, reflecting its historic name and the name used in other areas of Northern Virginia. The Leesburg and Round Hill town councils endorsed that effort late last year.
Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser suggested the town use the highway renaming to honor one of its pioneering residents.
William Joseph “Billy” Pierce was born in Purcellville in 1890 and went on to be a noted choreographer, dancer and dance studio owner credited with inventing the Black Bottom dance that became a national craze in the 1920s.
According to the resolution requesting the name change, Peirce attended Storer College in Harpers Ferry and Howard University and then served in World War I with the 8th Infantry Regiment of the Illinois National Guard. His work as a journalist included writing for the Chicago Defender, the premier African American newspaper of its time. He moved to the theater, as a dancer and trombonist in vaudeville and played banjo in Dr. Diamond Dick’s Kickapoo Medicine Show on the Theater Owners Booking Association circuit of black vaudeville theaters. He then opened a dance studio in New York City that is credited as one of the incubators for the Harlem Renaissance and where he worked with noted actors and choreographed numerous Broadway shows. He died at age 42 from mastoiditis in 1933.
There are no addressable structures on Purcellville’s section of Rt. 7, so the only cost involved would be the creation and placement of signs denoting the name. The council’s resolution states the town, in collaboration with Loudoun County, would pay those costs.
The resolution passed unanimously, although Councilwoman Erin Rayner raised concerns that the council was not following the CTB’s preferred process, which includes a broader process of seeking public suggestions and input.