Members of the Lynn family requested the Prince William County School Board consider reburying the remains of what might be their ancestors on the 12th high school property.
The Prince William County School Board held a well-attended special meeting Monday evening at the Kelly Center to allow citizens to address the issue of the reinterment of the remains taken from the graves found at the 12th high school construction site.
Discovering the Graves
David Cline, Associate Superintendent for Finance and Support Services for Prince William County Schools [PWCS], said the surveying crew did not immediately recognize the graves which were hidden by thick vegetation. Additionally, the rocks had no markings.
Once the site had been identified as a cemetery, he said PWCS followed the Department of Historical Resources’ recommendation to apply for an archeological permit. While archeologists removed the coffins and remains, Thunderbolt Archeology made note of the eleven grave sites and sent the remains off to Towson University to be studied and identified.
Identifying the Remains
Cline explained that since then, the team of scientists at Towson had informed him the remains would not be able to be conclusively linked to a person or family.
“Minimal human remains [survived] and these were very degraded,” Cline said. “[There is] no definitive archival evidence linking the cemetery to any family or group.”
Likewise, establishing the date of the graves has also proved difficult. The identification of the coffins and artifacts all date post 1850, but determining the latest date of burial is more difficult.
Circumstantial evidence suggests the eleven deceased were members of the Lynn family, as the Lynn’s held the deed to the land until the 20th century. Cline also said that the team at Townsend determined the graves most likely belonged to the caucasian landowners, not their African American slaves, as determined by the types of coffins used and artifacts found.
They suspect, but cannot confirm, that among the graves are those belonging to William Lynn, Cordelia Lynn, their family and perhaps some tenants who lived on the land with them.
Options for Reinterment
Cline presented three options for the reinterment of the remains. The first option was that the school division will have the remains and other artifacts returned to their former burial spots.
Estimated to cost an additional $6-9 million, it is the least preferable option for the school division since it would require a redesign of the fields at the 12th high school in addition to the substantial financial burden. Cline said he expects this option would cause a delay in construction and even a delay in the delivery of the school. He also explained that the fields were designed to minimize glare from the sun during sports events and to equalize facilities between men and women’s teams in accordance with Title 9 regulations, leaving little room for alternative designs.
The second option, the one originally put forth by PWCS, involves moving the remains to Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery along Lee Jackson Highway in Manassas. This would allow the deceased to have a proper burial and professionals to handle upkeep of the property.
However, Lynn family members almost unanimously preferred their ancestors not be buried on the other side of Manassas but to have their remains returned to their own land near Independence Hill. [One person in disagreement, was the prior owner of the land, a Lynn, who claimed to be a Lynn on a different side of the family. Another wanted the remains reburied at another family cemetery in the county.]
However, the Lynns, by and large, did speak approvingly of plan three. While remains could not be reburied in the exact same place, according to this option, they could be reburied on the same track of land once owned by William and Cordelia Lynn.
All three options include the cost for coffins, grave markers and upkeep, but as only plan number one affects the design of the school site, the costs of the others were more manageable in scale. The eleven costs were estimated at $35,000 but there were no quotes on the burial plots provided.
Citizens’ Input: the Lynn Family
While any citizens were able to provide their input, most came from members of the Lynn family, explaining how they believe the remains, which likely belong to their ancestors, should be reburied on the same track of land.
The Lynns, who had been a prominent family in the county for several generations, as landowners, soldiers in the American Revolution and Virginia Militia during the Civil War, supervisors on the county board and members of the Prince William County School Board, asked that their family be respected by the school board in this era.
“The National Archives in Washington D.C., says ‘What is past is prologue,’” said Marilyn Creech, a 50-year resident of Woodbridge, Virginia, whose daughter married into the Lynn family. She said she hopes the school division would help, “to instill that kind of respect in our children and grandchildren.”
Lynn family members who spoke favored plan three, saying they believed it would best honor their families’ history and heritage, giving the conditions associated with the first option. Others thought that having the graves so near the school would be a good opportunity for high school students to learn about their county’s history.
Letty Lynn gave a heartfelt plea for the respect to her ancestors.
“My father, Fred Lynn, served on this school board for more than 30 years,” she said through tears.
Letty asked that the graves be restored to a site near the school and that the remains be arrange in the same order in which they were found. Additionally, she requested the school division pay for perpetual upkeep of the cemetery property and provide both a secular ceremony and a religious service for the reinterment.
One Lynn family member offered a fourth suggestion, saying she knows of another historic family gravesite belonging to another branch of the Lynn family. She offered that the William and Cordelia Lynn family remains could be reburied with those relations, which may have well also been their contemporaries and cousins.
But most of the Lynns, direct descendants of William and Cordelia, felt that as one of the founding Independent Hill families, they should return to their own land.
“My wish as a family member- I do think this is William and Cordelia and their family and I am their great-great granddaughter- if it is possible to put them on their original property, I think that is a great thing to do,” said Carolyn Lynn of Manassas.
Citizens’ Time: Casting Doubt on the Process
Others came forth indicating that perhaps the interested parties had chosen to look the other way after graves had been found. A neighbor to the site said she told surveyors in 2008 that there were gravesites in the woods they were surveying but to her knowledge nothing was done about it.
“Sadly, I will tell you, back in 2008, I walked back there and met with the surveyor, [asking him,] ‘What are you going to do about the cemetery?’” said Deborah Van Dorn of Independent Drive in Manassas. “I personally brought it to his attention.”
Van Dorn said she did not know if her advisement was ever considered in 2008, but she said the school division had “plenty of years to address this.”
“All of this tonight is what I was hoping we would avoid. A lot of money has been spent because those words were ignored, or were they ignored? I don’t know,” Van Dorn said.
Charles Grimes, a member of the Prince William Conservation Alliance said that the school division, had a “pattern” of ignoring things they did not want to see, citing that when building Ronald Reagan Middle School in Haymarket, the alliance had realized there was a rare woodland habitat at the site, but said it was too late and would be too expensive to change course at the time of discovery. He asked that they add more steps to their process in the future.
However, former owner of the property, a Lynn, though not a descendent of William Lynn, said her father had told her about her own family burial ground and this one was unknown to her upon selling the land to PWCS.
Land to Rebury
While Cline said that returning the remains to their original grave sites would disrupt the progression of the school fields, there is room for a new small cemetery along the south west boundaries of the school grounds. Cline said this location is close enough to Hoadly Road that it would only need a small path built towards the cemetery.
At Wednesday evening’s School Board meeting, Chairman Milt Johns said his board would recommend the remains be reburied on another spot on school grounds at cost to the school division. They will also provide a path from Hoadly Road to the grave sites.
Bristow Beat will post John’s comments in a separate article.
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