WINCHESTER — Two of Winchester’s most generous benefactors are celebrated annually for their contributions to the city:
• Charles Broadway Rouss Day honors the man whose financial gifts to Winchester helped build Rouss City Hall, Rouss Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, the fence and mortuary chapel at Mount Hebron Cemetery, and purchase Thatcher Spring, where the city built its first public water plant.
• The city school system’s annual march to Judge John Handley’s tomb in Mount Hebron Cemetery pays homage to the man whose bequest to Winchester built Handley High School, Handley Library and the Douglass School.
Barrels of ink have been used to chronicle the lives and accomplishments of Rouss and Handley, but very little has been written about a third benefactor whose name lives on nearly two centuries after her death.
Sarah Zane is best known locally because of a now-defunct fire company at 301 N. Loudoun St. that bore her name. That vacant building is currently being considered for renovation into an apartment complex.
Despite the familiarity of her name, most people today are hard-pressed to tell you anything about Zane. Even Cissy Shull, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, admitted last week she knows very little about Zane beyond a few paragraphs that were printed in various historical journals.
According to those journals — “Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts” (1985) and “Hopewell Friends History 1734-1934” (1936), as well as the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society’s “A Prominent Place: 275 Years of History” that will be published next month — Zane spent most of her life in Philadelphia but made frequent trips to Winchester and even lived here for a short time.
She became connected to the area because of her brother, Isaac Zane Jr., a Frederick County justice and Virginia House of Burgesses member who built and operated Marlboro Iron Works, an iron-smelting furnace along Cedar Creek in Frederick County that was once visited by Thomas Jefferson.
Isaac Zane died in 1795 and left most of his estate to his sisters, Sarah Zane and Hannah Zane Pemberton.
“It was Sarah who for many years came to Winchester to settle debts of her brother’s estate by selling the vast lands of 35,000 acres in Frederick and Shenandoah counties that [Isaac] Zane had amassed,” according to author Kristen Wolfe Goff’s contribution to the forthcoming “A Prominent Place: 275 Years of History.”
“She was a woman of fair size, compactly built and rather good looking, with an extremely benevolent, pleasant and kind face,” according to author John Walter Wayland’s “Hopewell Friends History 1734-1934.” “Her private benefactions, of which there is [sic] no record ... made her much beloved, and the arrival of her coach in Winchester always caused much rejoicing among the poor and afflicted.”
Sarah Zane followed through with her late brother’s wishes and donated some of his land for a school, Winchester Academy, and the local Quaker church, Hopewell Centre Meeting.
When she died in 1821 in Philadelphia, she left money to family, friends and Quaker organizations. Her will also included $1,000 for the city of Winchester to buy “a fire engine and hose to be kept in best repair with my affection and gratitude.”
Winchester used the money to purchase a hand engine built by Joseph Share and Sons of Baltimore. To honor their benefactor, the city also created the Sarah Zane Fire Company in 1840 on Piccadilly Street. In 1879, the fire hall and its hand engine moved to 301 N. Loudoun St., where the company operated until shutting down in 1936. Forty-five years later, in 1981, Sarah Zane Fire Company formally disbanded and was incorporated into Rouss Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company.
There are no annual ceremonies honoring Sarah Zane, but her legacy endures. The hand engine bought with her $1,000 gift was preserved and is displayed at Rouss Fire Hall at 3 S. Braddock St., and the former fire hall at 301 N. Loudoun St. still bears her name in engraved concrete above its main entrance.