A unique reunion will take place at Arlington National Cemetery later this month.
Descendants of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will gather with descendants of enslaved persons at the place where they once lived: Lee’s former plantation home, Arlington House.
The reunion, supported by the National Park Service, will feature families whose name has been etched in Arlington history over the years: Syphax, Custis, Gray, and so on.
A planned program on Saturday, April 22 will be open to the public and is set to include “music, remarks from descendant family members, and a ceremonial signing of a commitment letter to affirm the shared interests of the National Park Service and descendant families in shaping and sharing how descendant family histories and legacies are presented to the public.”
More, below, from a press release.
After more than 160 years, the descendants of the families, both enslaved and free, who lived on the historical plantation home of George Washington Parke Custis and Robert E. Lee will come together in-person for a milestone celebration of togetherness, reconciliation and storytelling. The three-day event, the first of its kind, will be held the weekend of April 21-23, 2023.
The Saturday April 22nd program beginning at 10AM on the grounds of Arlington House, will be open to the public and include music, remarks from descendant family members, and a ceremonial signing of a commitment letter to affirm the shared interests of the National Park Service and descendant families in shaping and sharing how descendant family histories and legacies are presented to the public.
Stephen Hammond, one of the organizers of the event and a Syphax family descendant, said, “We are pleased to announce our first face-to-face reunion of the descendant families connected to Arlington House. For the last two years, we have been meeting virtually, as a family circle, thanks to reconciliation dialogues sponsored by the National Park Service. Our facilitated conversations grew from members’ initial work to get to know one another and listen to one another. Through these deliberate and thoughtful conversations, the group has become a meaningful circle for its participants, who are now inviting the larger Arlington House descendant community to join us.”
Sarah Fleming, a Lee family descendant, said, “My fourth great grandfather, Richard Bland Lee, was Robert E. Lee’s uncle. I grew up knowing slavery was abhorrent and hearing of the pride my family took in being related to the Lees. We never talked about the space in between – about how the Lees themselves were enslavers. As a descendant of the Lees of Virginia, I am honored to have been invited to join the Arlington House Descendants’ Family Circle and to work towards healing the racial harms caused by slavery and by my ancestors.”
The Arlington House Family Circle was formed in 2021 with support from the National Park Service by descendants of enslaved persons, including the Branham, Custis, Gray, Henry, Norris, Parks and Syphax families, as well as descendants of enslaver families including the Custis and Lee families. The Family Circle participated in an innovative trust-building and truth-telling process, called The Welcome Table, which fostered difficult but necessary conversations about history that created a pathway to address the past while also charting a way forward together.
Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, reopened in June 2021 after a 3-year renovation. The renovated plantation house, along with gardens and other buildings with exhibits will be open. Descendants will be on hand as docents, to answer questions.
The county installed a historic marker in October at Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery on N. Culpepper Street in the Halls Hill neighborhood, also known as High View Park. A brief unveiling ceremony was held in late November and attended by Board Chair Katie Cristol, local historian Charlie Clark, Black Heritage Museum president Scott Edwin Taylor, and others.
The marker reads:
“The Mt. Salvation Baptist Church trustees have maintained this cemetery since June 7, 1884 when they bought the property for $80. Reverend Cyrus Carter cultivated the congregation which began at the nearby home of Isabella Washington and Moses Pelham, Sr. The cemetery contains 89 known burials from 1916 to 1974, although earlier burials were likely.
This is the final resting place of many community leaders, including those who were formerly enslaved and their descendants. Members of this church provided stability and social support throughout segregation and served as a pillar of Arlington’s African American community. The cemetery became an Arlington Historic District in 2021.”
The cemetery was designated as a local historic district last year and the marker was approved by the county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) in April 2022.
“Being a Local Historic District (LHD) is not required to request a marker, but we thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our newest LHD and provide a small glimpse into the history for those enjoying the neighborhood,” county historic preservation planner Serena Bolliger wrote ARLnow in an email.
The cemetery is the final resting place for at least nearly 90 early residents of Halls Hill, a fact known thanks to a ground-penetrating probing survey that was done in October 2019 with permission from the church. The probing also revealed potential grave markers and borders.
Buried at Mount Salvation are a number of influential Arlingtonians including Lucretia M. Lewis, Moses Pelham, and Annie and Robert Spriggs.
Scott Edwin Taylor, president of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington, told ARLnow that what also makes Mount Salvation special is that it’s a great example of how traditional African American cemeteries were laid out and designed prior to the turn of the 20th century. Graves are often oriented east to west, with the head point westward. Burial plots tend to be shallow, no deeper than four feet, with plantings.
“Some anthropologists have suggested that marking graves with plants may have been rooted in the African belief in the living spirit,” reads the county’s report on the cemetery.
Some graves even have seashells.
“A lot of Black Americans, before the turn of the [20th] century, used seashells. It was… like asking angels to watch over the graves. A couple of the graves still have those seashells on there,” Taylor said.
Mount Salvation is one of two still-remaining, church-affiliated, historic African-American cemeteries in the Halls Hill neighborhood with the other being Calloway Cemetery on Langston Blvd.
It’s important to preserve these sites for generations to come, Taylor explained.
“The gentrification that’s going on in Arlington is moving at the speed of light,” Taylor said. “When we have landmarks like [this], we need to cherish them because it shows the real African-American experience.”
Firefighters Rescue Cat from Tree — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “We are so grateful for @ArlingtonVaFD! Yesterday, Charlie the cat snuck out of his house and got spooked, climbing 2.5 stories up a nearby tree on a very stormy day. ACFD came to the rescue and brought Charlie back down to the ground and to safety.” [Twitter]
Suspicious Package at Pentagon Metro — From Pentagon police: “At 9:46am, @PFPAOfficial was alerted to a suspicious package at the Pentagon Metro Visitors Screening Center. Explosive Ordnance Detection Unit is… investigating. Bus and rail service is bypassing the Pentagon. Personnel are asked to please avoid the area. […] At 1251 @PFPAOfficial gave the all clear. Bus and rail service have resumed. The incident is currently under investigation.” [Twitter]
New Apartment Building Proposed in Crystal City — “Add another new mixed-used building to the growing National Landing pipeline. An affiliate of Dweck Properties filed plans this week with Arlington county for two new buildings that would become a part of the Crystal Towers development at 1600 South Eads Street.” [UrbanTurf]
Boeing Bringing Few Jobs — “Paul Lewis, a Boeing spokesman, said the company employs 400 people in the Washington area and has space to add more, but ‘there are no immediate plans to expand the facility here in Arlington.’ The company also won’t reduce its roughly 400 employees at Boeing’s outgoing headquarters in Chicago. Nonetheless, Lewis said in an email the move to Virginia was important for the company: ‘It’s significant in that this will be the base of operations for the CEO and CFO.'” [Washington Post]
More Local Reaction to Boeing HQ — “From the Greater Washington Board of Trade: “Congrats to @NationalLanding
. Our region provides such a compelling strategic advantage to businesses that want to relocate here because of its’ proximity to the government, business, non-profits and academia. It’s a win for everyone in our region!” [Twitter, LinkedIn]
Local Cemetery Getting Historic Marker — “It became a county historic landmark last year, and soon the Mount Salvation Baptist Church cemetery will have a marker denoting its status… The cemetery, located adjacent to the church in the historically African-American North Arlington community of Halls Hill/High View Park, is the final resting spot of at least 89 people. Burials at the cemetery were recorded from 1916 (although some likely occurred a decade or two earlier) to 1974.” [Sun Gazette]
Reminder: West Glebe Road Bridge Closed to Cars — “The West Glebe Road bridge over Four Mile Run will be completely closed to vehicles [on Monday, May 9], and will remain closed for nearly a year.” [ARLnow]
It’s Monday — Mostly sunny, with a northeast wind around 11 mph and gusts as high as 18 mph. High of 64 and low of 44. Sunrise at 6:03 am and sunset at 8:10 pm. [Weather.gov]
Prison for Convicted Drug Trafficker — “An Alexandria man was sentenced today to 14 years in prison for conspiracy, possession, and distribution of fentanyl and Eutylone, and being a felon in possession of a firearm during drug trafficking… Pills distributed by the conspiracy twice on December 20, 2020, contributed to the mixed drug overdose death of a 20-year-old female in Arlington, whose blood was later determined to contain fentanyl.” [Dept. of Justice, Twitter]
ACDC Lowering Participation Age — “Seventeen-year-olds would be able to participate in operation of the Arlington County Democratic Committee under proposed bylaw amendments. The change, part of a larger swath of amendments to be voted on in April, would allow those under 18 to participate in ACDC activities, including caucuses, if they would turn 18 before the next Election Day.” [Sun Gazette]
History of Columbia Gardens Cemetery — “Columbia Gardens, long run by the Thomas family, is the resting place of historic personages: car dealer Bob Peck, Sen. Robert Byrd, guitarist Roy Buchanan, and a host of prominent locals with names like Ball, Marcy, Mackay and Lyon. Retired superintendent Ned Thomas Jr. confirmed the story his great-grandfather (a co-founder) relayed: ‘Someone in the War Department knew World War I was coming and that Arlington cemetery was basically full,’ he told me. So the partners thought a new cemetery in Arlington would make a lot of money.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Marymount Boosts Local Economy — “A new study suggests Marymount University pumps $236 million annually into the local economy, directly and indirectly, and is responsible for a cumulative payroll of about $90 million. The study, released by the university, looks at both the direct impact of the university on local economic conditions, and indirect impacts, such as spending by students.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Monday — Rain in the evening. High of 75 and low of 57. Sunrise at 6:33 am and sunset at 6:09 pm. [Weather.gov]
Arlington is ‘Best City for Road Trips’ in Va. — “In each state, there are some cities with particularly novel and exciting opportunities to soak up some of the local history and culture without breaking the bank. From underrated smaller communities to large metropolises, these are the cities you want to hit on your road trip this summer in 2021.” [Insurify]
Attempted Art Theft from Garage — “4700 block of 36th Street N. At approximately 10:32 p.m. on June 23, police were dispatched to the report of a burglary in progress. Upon arrival, officers located the suspect on scene and detained him without incident. The investigation revealed the male suspect gained entry into the victim’s garage and attempted to remove paintings.” [ACPD]
W-L Softball Wins Regional Title — “It’s hard to lose if the opponents don’t score much, and that was the successful formula for the Washington-Liberty Generals en route to winning the 6D North Region Tournament championship. The girls high-school softball team (13-5) won the crown with a 4-0 record, defeating the host Langley Saxons, 4-1, in the title game. The region championship was W-L’s first in program history.” [Sun Gazette]
Pike Library Renovation Celebration — “The public is invited to attend the grand opening and community celebration of the newly renovated Columbia Pike Library on Thursday, July 8, 4-6 p.m. Join members of the County Board and Library Director Diane Kresh in the ribbon cutting ceremony, followed by family-friendly events, music and ice cream, and a tour of the transformed Library Branch.” [Arlington Public Library]
F.C. Cemetery Full of Arlington History — “An array of Arlington’s historic notables are buried across our southern border in Falls Church City. I received a tour of the open-to-the-public Oakwood Cemetery just off Roosevelt Blvd. behind Eden Center… Don’t miss the marker for Amanda Febrey, who died in 1913 of tuberculosis at age 14, and whose ghost is said to have haunted the clubhouse at Overlee swim club.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Metro Is Electrifying Its Bus Fleet — “Today, Metro’s Board of Directors.. took a major step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving local air quality with the approval of a new Metrobus fleet strategy that would create a 100% zero-emission bus fleet by 2045, with a full transition to electric or other zero-emission bus purchases by 2030.” [WMATA]
The Mount Salvation Baptist Church cemetery — which served as the final resting place Black Arlingtonians denied access to white graveyards — could be granted a historic district designation by the Arlington County Board.
As part of the consent agenda at its Jan. 23 meeting, the County Board approved advertisement of public hearings to review the designation of the cemetery at 1961 N. Culpeper Street at the Monday, Feb. 8 Planning Commission meeting and at the Saturday, Feb. 20 County Board meeting.
“There are many community members in this church and I’ve been there to listen and pay respects,” said County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti. “This is historic preservation done well to help us remember our African-American community and history. The final resting places in this burial ground, it’s important for us to recognize this for historic preservation.”
The Mount Salvation Baptist Church congregation has gathered in the Halls Hill/High View Park neighborhood since the first church was constructed on the property in 1892. That church was later demolished with a replacement church build in 1975. The earliest marked burial at the cemetery was a woman named Helen Thompson in 1916, but a staff report on the cemetery said there are likely older, unmarked graves on the plot dating back to the church’s founding. There are a total of 89 confirmed burials at the site.
“There are two other historic African American cemeteries in Arlington County that are designated as local historic districts: most of Lomax African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Cemetery in Green Valley and Calloway United Methodist Cemetery in Hall’s Hill,” a staff report said.
The report noted that Mount Salvation Baptist Church was as much of a social gathering place for Black Arlingtonians in the late 19th century and early 20th century as it was a religious institution.
Both the trustees of the church and Arlington’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board support the designation.
Part of the designation could also open the way to a barrier around the cemetery to limit pedestrian through-traffic.
“Church trustees have expressed a desire to discourage casual pedestrian traffic through the cemetery,” the report said. “The installation of a permanent fence around the cemetery would deter such activity; recommendations for appropriate fencing types are included in the accompanying proposed Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery Local Historic District Design Guidelines.”
Image via Arlington County
Amazon Makes Local Donations — Amazon has made a some substantial recent donations to local charitable organizations. Arlington-based Doorways for Women and Families received $100,000 from Amazon “in COVID-19 relief to keep survivors safe in housing and hotels,” while newly-created Project Headphones received $75,000, which “allows us to get headphones with mics for all grade levels in @APSVirginia.” [Twitter, Twitter]
Clement Blasts ‘Missing Middle’ Housing — “‘Missing middle’ may be two words totaling 13 letters, but depending on which side of the Arlington political divide you are on, it may qualify as a single four-letter word. The proposed housing policy, which in theory aims to find ways to stop Arlington from becoming an enclave of the very wealthy with some low-cost housing thrown in as fig leaf, came under withering attack from a veteran campaigner during the recent Arlington Committee of 100 County Board debate.” [InsideNova]
Food Hall Coming to Rosslyn Development — “The first level of the new concept will include a bodega that carries everyday essentials and prepared food for dine-in or to-go. The second level will offer seven food stalls, including an oyster bar, coffee bar and diner concept. There will also be access to a main bar, full-service dining area and a communal work lounge.” [Washington Business Journal]
County Offering Free Online Job Training — “City of Alexandria and Arlington County residents can get free job skills training online as part of ‘Skill-Up City of Alexandria and Arlington County,’ an initiative of the Alexandria/Arlington Regional Workforce Council, Alexandria Workforce Development Center, and Arlington Employment Center. The online classes are funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.” [Arlington County]
Recollection of Racism in Arlington — “There was a time, Araya recalled, when Blacks couldn’t walk along the north side of Columbia Pike without getting frisked by police. So for an African American to walk from Green Valley to see friends in Halls Hill, ‘You had to know the route through white neighborhoods. It was like the Green Book for Arlington.'” [Falls Church News-Press]
Cemetery Likely to Get Historic Status — “The cemetery at Mount Salvation Baptist Church in Arlington is now virtually assured of becoming a local historic district. The county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) has approved the nomination, setting the stage for public hearings before the Planning Commission and County Board.” [InsideNova]
Local Man Convicted of Embezzlement — “A well-connected Virginia financial advisor was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison for embezzling approximately $8 million from money that the U.S. government and a hospital had entrusted to him to set up annuities for 13 people who were the beneficiaries of medical malpractice settlements. Joseph Edward Gargan, owner of The Pension Co. in Arlington, Va… is a relative of the late President John F. Kennedy.” [Claims Journal]
It’s easy to miss, but its small size belies its local historical significance. Here’s what the historic marker says about the cemetery:
Five generations of the Southern, Shreve, and related families are interred in this burial plot. The Shreve family in Arlington dates from the arrival of Samuel Shreve from New Jersey about 1780. Shreve purchased a tract of land near Ballston in 1791. The earliest grave (1832) is that of John Redin (Sixth Continental Line), a veteran of the American Revolution. Redin’s daughter married Richard Southern.
But there’s even more to the cemetery than that. You can thank one of its occupants for helping to popularize tomatoes as a food. Until the mid-1800s, tomatoes were largely regarded as an ornamental plant.
More from an article on the Arlington Public Library website:
Of the two Shreve family cemeteries in Arlington, the Southern-Shreve cemetery could possibly lay claim to having a more unique history. Located on the north side of Fairfax Drive, between North Frederick and North Harrison streets, the cemetery sat near the property of Richard and Frances (Redin) Southern. Richard Southern was a landscape architect and horticulturist, who became known for pioneering the use of the tomato as a food. It may seem hard to believe in these modern times, but prior to Southern’s efforts, the tomato was widely regarded as being poisonous and was only used for decorative purposes.
The land was given as a dowry by Frances Redin’s brother, a prominent Georgetown attorney, and was the burial place of John Redin, father of Frances and her brother. This generous act may have been precipitated by the fact that the Southerns cared for John Redin during his final years. He was buried in the garden of the Southern’s home in 1832, his gravestone being the first in what was to become the family cemetery.
Being neighbors of the Shreves, Birches, and Balls, the families intermarried and the house and property remained in the Shreve family until 1904.
There are approximately 20 marked stones in the cemetery, which is still in fairly good condition today, with the most notable being that of Richard and Francis Shreve, who were both killed by lightning on June 25th, 1874. The inscription reads: “Struck by a thunderbolt from Heaven, they both lay down and died, they left three lambs whom God had given them, may he for them provide.”
Changes to Stalled Ballston Development — “An Arlington homebuilder is reviving plans to redevelop a church in Ballston with a new proposal for a mix of townhomes and condos on the site… The site is currently home to the Portico Church, but the developer [BCN Homes] could someday replace it with 10 townhomes and 98 condo units.” [Washington Business Journal]
Beloved Former County Official Dies — “Ann Bisson, a long-time resident and former Deputy Commissioner of the Revenue for Arlington County, passed away peacefully on January 7, 2020… In addition to her work in the Commissioner’s office, Ann was very active in the community.” [Dignity Memorial]
History of Royal Visits to Arlington — “If Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ever decided to make their home in the DC area, they’d be in good company. Many members of the royal family have made their way to Arlington over the years.” [Arlington Public Library, Twitter]
Bill Proposes Funding for Local Cemeteries — “Three Arlington cemeteries would receive state funding under a program designed to preserve burial places of African-American Virginians. Del. Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax-Arlington) has patroned legislation to add the three graveyards – at Calloway, Lomax and Mount Salvation churches – to the more than two dozen statewide that already receive support from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.” [InsideNova]
Development may be surging around the Ball Family Burial Grounds on N. Kirkwood Street, but the fate of the historic site remains uncertain.
The gravesite of the family who is the namesake for Ballston is located in the middle of Virginia Square’s newest development hub, which includes plans to rebuild the YMCA and repurpose American Legion Post 139 as mixed residential buildings.
The Arlington County Board is also set to vote Saturday to approve a third project in the area: a long-standing application by Eleventh Street Development LLC to redevelop the 1.726 acre site located at 1122 N. Kirkwood Road at Washington Boulevard, currently a mix of one-story retail and office uses, into a new 255-unit multifamily residential building.
But when it comes to the plan for the cemetery — which is adjacent to the new development — the county is at an impasse, according to Richard Woodruff, chairman of the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB). The county can’t legally access the land to maintain it or take actions to preserve it because it was deeded to the heirs of John Ball who founded it in the 1700s.
The problem? No one knows who those heirs are.
During a Thursday visit to the grounds, Woodruff pointed out how wild strawberries have overgrown the gravesites’ grass and a secret Samaritan has been mowing the plot.
“It’s sort of now a mystery as to who maintains it,” he said.
However, other site maintenance issues are piling up. Broken branches rest on the dozen mossy grave stones piled in the far corner of the burial ground where the grass grows higher and trash accumulates.
HALRB and the Arlington Planning Commission have asked the county to hire a genealogist to locate the Ball family heirs. They added that the county should also create a fund to maintain the land and study what could be buried in the cemetery because people have moved the graves over time.
These recommendations are not included in the list of actions for the Board members to review this weekend.
A staff report to the Board notes that one of the project’s goals is to “preserve, respect and enhance the historic integrity” of the gravesite. But aside from asking developers to follow protocols if they find artifacts or human remains during construction, the document is short on specifics.
Flyover Planned Today — A flyover of Arlington National Cemetery, in support of a funeral, is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. today. [Twitter]
More Buses for Rosslyn Commuters — “After initially providing no additional backup options for riders during the Blue Line shutdown and major Orange and Silver Line work that began Aug. 11, Metro is now making some changes… Without much fanfare or notification to riders, Metro said this week it will add four additional Route 5A buses between Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride and Rosslyn and L’Enfant Plaza each morning.” [WTOP]
Rep. Jim Jordan Coming to Arlington Fundraiser — Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) will be the special guest at a fundraiser for Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) in Arlington next month. The fundraiser is being held Sept. 7 at Washington Golf and Country Club. Jordan has been in the news this summer over accusations that he turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of wrestlers while an assistant coach at Ohio State. [TrailBlazer]
Ballston Apartment Building Sold — “The Ballston Place transaction… has closed with Akelius Residential AB buying the 382-unit apartment complex for $170 million, or $445,026 per unit.” [Globe St.]
Photo courtesy Patricia Kime