Advocates for the historic Black and Native American cemeteries in the Thoroughfare area of Prince William County are calling out another clearing of land in the area, but county officials say they had no authority to stop the digging.
On Tuesday, activists involved with The Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare – a group formed in response to the clearing of some grave sites – posted photos and a video of an excavator digging land in the Thoroughfare. And on Thursday, the group issued a news release condemning “encroachment that allegedly occurred … near the historic Fletcher-Allen cemetery in Thoroughfare, Va., which contains the graves of African-Americans and Native Americans.”
“Our worst fears have materialized,” Frank Washington, a leader of the coalition, said in the release.
But county officials say the property owners were digging outside the known boundaries of the Fletcher-Scott cemetery, and that because the digging was done over less than 10,000 square feet, the county has no ability to stop it.
Earlier this year, the county did cite The Farm Brewery at Broad Run for unpermitted clearing on parts of a different cemetery in the area because it took place within the known boundaries of the cemetery and was done over more than 10,000 square feet. The brewery said it was unaware of the graves, which had largely been unmarked.
But Tom Smith, the county’s director of public works, said no permit was needed for Tuesday’s clearing, reiterating that it was done outside the known bounds of the cemetery.
“[The owner] hired his own archeological consultants and wanted to do some archeological work on his own property outside of the cemetery boundary … but it’s been alleged that there’s other gravesites on his property outside of the boundary. And so he hired his own archeological consultant to either confirm or verify or refute that claim,” Smith told InsideNoVa. “He was doing his own archeological survey on his property, outside the cemetery boundaries as we know it.”
Flint Rock Builders owns a series of properties near the cemeteries, and some of the activists have raised concern that some owners in the area have plans to build homes there. InsideNoVa was unable to find contact information for the Chester-based LLC, and the State Corporation Commission clerk’s office did not have a phone number in its records.
Representatives from The Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare could not be immediately reached to respond.
In May, the county staff responded to the growing controversy over the area by putting together a $3.6 million package of initiatives aimed at better identifying and studying historic cemeteries, conducting archaeological surveys of the Thoroughfare area, and doing more to tell the story of historic Black settlements in the area like the Thoroughfare and the Carver Road Settlement. An update to the county’s cemetery database was also included.
The Board of County Supervisors indicated that it would vote to approve the first part of that package – worth $765,000 – at its next meeting, June 15.