Monday, January 13, 2014

Current Affairs: Can You Rest In Peace in PWCo?

On Wednesday, January 8th, the Prince William Committee of 100 hosted a timely forum entitled "Can You Rest in Peace in Prince William County."

Moderated by Charlie Grymes, Chairman, PW Conservation Alliance, the forum panel included (from left to right):

Dr. Bill Olsen, President, Historic Prince William, and member of the PWCo Historic Commission and Cemetery Committee Chairman;

Martin Nohe, Coles District Supervisor (currently serving his third term in office);

Don Wilson, Director of RELIC (Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center), Bull Run Regional Library;

Julie Langan, Acting Director and State Historic Preservation Officer, Virginia Department of Historic Resources ("DHR"); and

Joanna Wilson Green, Archaeology Stewardship and Easements, Office of Preservation Incentives, Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Prince William County Schools ("PWCS") was invited to send a representative to the forum panel.  Since the first School Board Meeting of 2014 coincided with the forum, PWCS declined due to a scheduling conflict.

The forum was as interesting as it was informative.  Dr. Olsen provided a timeline of the events surrounding the PWCS's discovery and removal of the 100+ year old cemetery on their 12th High School construction site;

Mr. Nohe spoke of the County's limits with regard to cemeteries found on public/County sites and the need for County-level legislation, and what may (or may not) be done to try and prevent the 12th High School graves situation from happening again.   (I should note that a similar situation has already arisen in PWCo, involving the Norman family cemetery behind the Coles Fire House which has plans to expand their facility -- over the cemetery.)

Mr. Wilson spoke of the historical and genealogical detective work conducted by RELIC staff and volunteers to determine the chain of title for the 12th High School site and, ultimately, the identity of the cemetery on the property.  (An especially challenging task, considering RELIC was not informed of exact coordinates or that the title search was meant to determine the identity of a cemetery.)

Ms. Langen and Ms. Green spoke about Virginia Burial Law and the DHR's guidelines with regard the removal of cemeteries in the Commonwealth, the distinction between old or "historic" cemeteries, and what authority DHR has and does not have.

It was learned that on the day of the forum, Delegate Anderson of Richmond submitted a "place holder" Bill to the Richmond Legislature proposing new guidelines and improvements to the cemetery law with regard to the discovery of unmarked/unidentified cemeteries in the Commonwealth.  In its infant stages, DHR, the PWCo Historic Commission, and other interested parties in the name of cemetery preservation will be offering suggestions to hopefully help it become Law.

If you were unable to attend and would like to watch this informative discussion, a video of the forum can be found here.

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