Prince William Board of County Supervisors to preserve historic hometown of Oakrum Baptist Church, founded by slaves

Historic church WikiCommons/ Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD

The Thoroughfare is a small unincorporated town with a lot of history. The Oakrum Baptist Church, founded by former slaves and still active today, is located here. It also contains three sites where Union and Confederate soldiers clashed during the Civil War, including the North Fork School, which served children of color in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Board of County Supervisors in Prince William took steps on Tuesday to formally recognize that heritage and do a better job preserving it.

In two separate votes, the board opted to spend $765,000 in surplus funds to pay for archeological and architectural surveys of the Thoroughfare region. A total of $540,000 will be put aside for a future historic interpretive site where the findings will be made public. The money will also document and protect known historic graves on private property within Prince William County.

The preservation of historic buildings

The board also decided to develop a "historic overlay district" for the Thoroughfare neighborhood, which is located just west of Haymarket and has a rich history as one of Northern Virginia's earliest settlements by former slaves and Native Americans. The Chapman-Beverley Mill, which is 279 years old and sits on the boundary of Fauquier and Prince William counties, could be included in the district.

However, those efforts did not immediately address the ongoing conflict that spurred the action in the first place - the effects of encroaching construction on three historic family cemeteries in Thoroughfare.

In recent weeks, the Farm Brewery at Broad Run in Thoroughfare accidentally destroyed soil believed to be the "Scott graveyard." A zoning violation was issued to the brewery for removing land without a permit. The brewery was issued a zoning violation for clearing land without a permit. It is now working with the county to have the cemetery site professionally investigated to identify and delineate any possible gravesites. 

According to an informal evaluation made by a local historian in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Scott cemetery may contain up to 100 burial sites. According to the resolution authorized by the board on June 15, county officials will work with the brewery, Thoroughfare homeowners, and other interested parties "to help secure mutually agreeable access" to a second cemetery in the area known as the Peyton cemetery.

The brewery owners argue that a locked security gate on a private road leading to the Peyton cemetery, which has been a point of dispute, is required. On private land close to the brewery's grounds, there lies an unofficial cemetery.

According to county officials, the access disagreement must be handled by state law, which mandates that property owners grant "reasonable access" to researchers and descendants of people buried in private land family cemeteries.

The Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare

Frank Washington, a Thoroughfare native who leads the newly formed "Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare," is frustrated by this limitation. In recent weeks, the group has staged three press conferences to speak out against destruction to the Thoroughfare cemetery.

Washington termed the supervisors' vote on June 15 "a positive step," but one that falls short of the complete protections he believes the county can provide. For example, according to Washington, the county could look into purchasing the land where the cemeteries are located to prevent further construction surrounding them. Meanwhile, Washington said he wants county officials to keep a close eye on any archeological examinations of gravesites in the region, especially those that have yet to be recognized.

According to a recent informal assessment of the region, there may be up to 40 Native American gravesites on land next to the Fletcher-Allen cemetery. According to Tom Smith, the director of public works for Prince William County, the owner of the adjacent land hired an archeology firm to look into the claims, which he was allowed to do.

Washington has requested that the county halt all new development in the region until all gravesites have been discovered. County officials claim that such actions are prohibited by law, a claim that Washington disputes.

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