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Small cemetery sits in local shopping center

Tuesday - 8/27/2013, 4:32am  ET

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This small cemetery at what is now the Virginia Gateway shopping center in Gainesville, has been here since the 1800s. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)
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GAINESVILLE, Va. - It's not what anyone would expect to see in the middle of a popular, busy outdoor shopping center: A small, private cemetery.

But the land the graveyard sits on was probably once owned by the people who are buried there.

Locals hardly notice it because for them it's just always been part of the landscape at the Virginia Gateway shopping center in Gainesville near Linton Hall Road and Route 29 in Prince William County.

"I never noticed the sign on the fence," said Wade Sampsell of Nokesville, a regular patron at the shopping center.

The sign reads "The Shirley Cemetery" and is attached to the wrought iron fence that surrounds the small family graveyard. It's where Richard (1802-1857) and Susan (1813-1880) Shirley were buried. Some of their children may lay there as well. The sign at the cemetery says Richard Shirley was a farmer and owned about 400 acres of land near Gainesville on Route 29.

Justin Patton, Prince William County archaeologist, works with private developers and owners to protect cemeteries. He says Peterson Companies, the developer of the shopping center, maintains and cares for the graveyard and even mows the grass.

Joyce Malvea from Gainesville said she believes those laid to rest at The Shirley Cemetery are doing so in peace.

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