When the U.S. government forced hundreds of families off their land, they left behind dozens of small graveyards filled with loved ones remains.
The 16,084 acres of Prince William Forest Park in northern Virginia was once home to at least three small towns, two mines, and dozens of homesteads. During the Great Depression, the Federal Government began buying up this land to form the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area. It purchased 79 properties and condemned 48 others.
Enforcement of the eviction was half-hearted, however, until WW2 when the Office of Strategic Services wanted to turn the land into a training ground. They forcibly removed dozens of residents without compensation. After the war, the National Park Service took over management and renamed it Prince William Forest Park, charging visitors $15 a week to walk around the woods.
There are approximately 45 family cemeteries dotting the park, reminders of the people who once lived there. It’s estimated over 300 people are interred there. Less than twelve are marked on the official park map.
A small sign misspelling the family name points to the side trail leading to the graveyard. Revolutionary War veteran Luke Cannon is buried here, as is a young man who lost his life working in the local mine.
Cannon-Reed Cemetery is closest to the Visitor’s Center, off Birch Bluff Trail. A small sign misspelling the family name points to the side trail leading to the graveyard. Revolutionary War veteran Luke Cannon is buried here, as is a young man who lost his life working in the local mine.
Reid Cemetery is a small plot with a few headstones near the parking lot along Scenic Drive, across from the North Orenda Road trail. Visitors have left flowers to commemorate the departed.
Another family plot, Lewis-Johnson Cemetery, is located at the top of a hill farther down North Orenda Road trail. It contains a few modern headstones, but also a large number of small, unlabeled flagstones.
Jones Cemetery, which is still active, is located off West Gate Road at the far west end of the park. It contains a mix of older and more modern graves, including Civil War veterans.
Historicprincewilliam.org has some information on pioneer cemeteries in Prince William County, Virginia. I’ve found my go-to website, Findagrave.com, is less accurate when it comes to burials in Prince William Forest. As I mentioned earlier, there is a fee to visit the park. You should always treat any historic site with respect, particularly burial grounds. But these places are a wonderful way to connect with the past and learn about the people who came before us.