Ghost Towns, Ghosts, and Graveyards of Prince William Forest Park

When the federal government forced hundreds of northern Virginia families off their land, they left behind dozens of small towns, graveyards, and of course, ghosts.

The 16,000 acres of Prince William Forest Park in Prince William County, Virginia was once home to sleepy communities, industry, an almshouse, and dozens of homesteads.

Most have vanished but remnants remain, including family graveyards resting quietly in the shadow of trees.

The settlements included Joplin, Hickory Ridge, and Batestown – all dating to the nineteenth century.

After the American Civil War, dozens of freed slaves joined Betsy Bates and her family to create the small but thriving community of Batestown.

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 a fee to camp and hike.

There are approximately 45 family cemeteries within its boundaries, reminders of the people who once lived there, but less than twelve are marked on the official park map.

It’s estimated these cemeteries contain over 300 graves.

According to former residents, two men once saw the ghost of a pale woman float from Bates Cemetery wailing for help.

Cannon-Reed Cemetery is closest to the Visitor’s Center, off Birch Bluff Trail. A small sign 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 at Cabin Branch Mine, which operated from 1889 to 1920.

You can still see the ruins of the old pyrite mine to this day.

Moss-covered concrete structures are conspicuous along the Cabin Branch Mine Trail northwest of the Visitor’s Center.

An oft-whispered story among former residents was that of the headless specter of a man killed in a mining accident who still roams the deserted dirt roads.

Interpretive signs tell the mine’s history.

Pyrite, also known as Iron Sulfide or “Fool’s Gold”, was a source of sulfur used to make products as diverse as glass, soap, bleach, textiles, paper, dye, and even gunpowder.

A company town of approximately 70 buildings served workers at the mine, including a store, machine shop, blacksmith, engine room, and six dormitories.

Most of those structures are gone, but you can still see the cement foundation of the commissary and a metal pony truss bridge that served miners as they crossed the North Branch Quantico Creek.

The mine had three main shafts, which remained open for decades until finally being sealed in 1995.

An oft-whispered story among former residents was that of the headless specter of a man killed in a mining accident who still roams the deserted dirt roads.

Some park rangers believe the visitor center, built in 1948, is also haunted.

They told the Prince William Journal that lights turn on and off, filing cabinets open by themselves, and stairs creak even when no one is using them.

Prince William Forest Park is open daily from dawn to dusk, with 37 miles of hiking trails, four campgrounds, and over 100 cabins. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy the natural, and perhaps, the supernatural.