Mrs. Ida M. Francis

Known Name(s)

Mrs. Ida M. Francis


252 N. Mason Harrisonburg, VA

Establishment Type(s)

Tourist Home

Physical Status


Detailed History

AREA CONTEXT: This was a thriving African American community that was the target of urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s, when the City’s urban planners had to convince the City that there were “slums” and “blight” in the City. Harrisonburg’s housing authority was established in 1955 for the sole purpose of executing urban renewal, and razed much of this northeast area to build what now are large surface parking lots and businesses.

There were two phases of this urban renewal project: R-4, which was approximately 32.5 acres, and R-16, which was approximately 7.5 acres. The properties at N Main Street, Federal Street, and Wolfe Street would have been included within the R-16 project, and no longer exist. Mrs. Ida M Francis’ home on Mason Street remains today because Mason Street was the boundary of the urban renewal project.

Ida Francis, 252 N. Mason: This dwelling still exists and is now a private residence. It was constructed in 1900 with updates c.a. 1930 (VCRIS). Per research by Mark Metzler Sawin, Henry William Francis and Ida Mae (Banks) Francis built this house in 1910. Per Sawin, the house that Henry (born 1876) and Ida Mae Francis (born 1875) built at 252 N. Mason became the epicenter of the Black community in Harrisonburg, Virginia and served as the foremost guesthouse and gathering place for its thriving and striving Black middle-class for fifty years, from 1912 to 1962. Through the 1920s, Ida Mae and her daughter Mary, whom everyone called "Pete," operated the guesthouse together. The Duncans were another family who owned the home after Mrs. Ida M. Francis, and continued to operate it as a boarding house. Per Sawin's research, the house stayed in the family until the death of Ida Mae's granddaughter, Lois Rouser, in the 2023 at the age of 98. The Francis heirs willed the house to the next-door neighbor, William Reed. The house has remained virtually unchanged. It is a remarkably well-preserved and historically important property that tells the story of the thriving Black middle-class community of Harrisonburg and the wider story of life during the Jim Crow era. 

The spur of N. Mason Street where the dwelling stands today was the original N. Mason Street. Prior to urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s, N. Mason Street was a prosperous African-American community with many doctors and landowners. This reflects the overall African-American population of Harrisonburg during the early and mid 1900s, which was comprised of many prominent landowners and business owners who had deep familial ties to both white and Black families in the surrounding area. Several other dwellings along N. Mason Street served as boarding houses and welcomed African-American entertainers who were traveling through the area. Two of these dwellings also remain today.  At the end of the original N. Mason Street was a social club called The Colonnade, a two or three story social club also featuring a restaurant and barber shop.Mrs. Ida M. Francis’ dwelling remains today because the west side of N. Mason Street was the boundary for the R-4 and R-16 urban renewal project.

Fun fact: Locals remember an Ida Francis who operated a hair salon out of here home. African Americans from as far away as Luray and Staunton would come to have their hair done. However, this must have been a different Ida Francis, as she lived on Broad Street, not Mason (or Main) Street. 

Research and photos by Caroline Vanterve, with many thanks to Robin Lyttle and Sharon Barber of the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Alliance. Additional research by Mark Metzler Sawin. 

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