BOCS Approves Land Purchase in Historic Thoroughfare Community

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Provided by Prince William County

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors approved the purchase of a two-acre parcel along John Marshall Highway, west of Haymarket, as part of the new Historic Communities program that aims to study, interpret, and preserve culturally significant enclaves throughout the County.  The parcel falls within the boundaries of the Thoroughfare Historical District, as recorded by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and contains the Potter’s Field/Peyton Thoroughfare Community Cemetery.  The purchase protects the land from private development.

County leaders plan to convert the property into a public interpretive park and will engage with residents and stakeholders to develop a master plan.  Funding for construction of the park will be considered in future budget years.  “This is an important step for the County to begin to preserve another piece of our past and celebrate the story of one of Virginia’s significant integrated communities as well as our native American ancestry,” said Chair Ann Wheeler.

The Thoroughfare community was established after the Civil War by freed slaves and mixed-raced families—including those of Native American descent—from Fauquier, Culpeper, Rappahannock, and Warren counties.  The farming village prospered through the twentieth century and many of the original buildings, structures, cemeteries, and features like Oakrum Baptist Church, which was founded by freed slaves, still exist today.

A grassroots community effort recently raised the public’s awareness of this historic community.  The Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare has been advocating for the preservation of privately held properties since land disturbance activities began in the area last spring.  Frank Washington, organizer and spokesperson for the Coalition, is “greatly encouraged” by the County’s recent efforts, saying, “we welcome these first steps by Prince William leadership to recognize, protect, and honor the value of the diverse ancestral heritage and history of Thoroughfare, its historic lands, cemeteries and people. The county’s actions lay a foundation for healing and a future predicated on strength, empathy and compassion as our collective preservation guide for generations to come.”

Last June, the Board initiated amendments to the Zoning Ordinance, Design Construction Standards Manual, and the Comprehensive Plan, as part of a study to explore the creation of an historic overlay district to address the preservation and protection of historic and cultural resources in the Thoroughfare area.  They also funded a cultural resources survey of the Thoroughfare community that entails oral history collection, recordation of architectural sites, cemeteries, and landscapes, and preparation of an archaeological assessment.

The County contracted with Dovetail Cultural Resource Group to conduct this work.  Supervisor Pete Candland, who represents the Gainesville District where Thoroughfare is located, expressed solidarity with Thoroughfare decedents and advocates stating, “together we cherish the contributions of those who came before us—especially those who were marginalized—and the Board and I are committed to making sure their stories and land are preserved for public benefit.”

Washington and the Coalition plan to continue their efforts. “We still have work to do, but our Slave, Freed Slave and Native American ancestors can rest a bit more peacefully now,” says Washington.

The parcel is currently landlocked and the acquisition will not result in a new access from public right of way. However, state law allows access by certain parties to cemeteries through adjacent private lands, provided  reasonable notice is given to the landowner and/or occupant; these provisions will still apply after the parcel changes ownership. The County will explore expanded access in the future to the best of its ability.

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