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Family seeks county’s help preserving historic cemetery near Freedom Hill

Gloria Runyon and Dee Dee Carter, descendants of the Carter family, speak at a dedication ceremony for new signs at Freedom Hill Park recognizing their family’s history (via FCPA/YouTube)

Fairfax County may get involved in the preservation of a cemetery belonging to a family with deep roots in the Vienna area, predating the formation of the U.S.

The Board of Supervisors directed staff yesterday (Tuesday) “to investigate options for addressing safety concerns” and the long-term care of the Carter Family Cemetery, a small plot near Tysons in what was once the historically Black community of Freedom Hill.

“This has been a while in coming. We’re getting to the point where there are some outcomes that may be truly viable, so [I] appreciate the board’s indulgence,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said, noting that a final vote by the board will be needed before any action is taken.

According to the board matter, which was introduced by Alcorn and co-sponsored by Chairman Jeff McKay, descendants of the Carter family who still live in the area asked county staff for “assistance in preserving and protecting the cemetery property.”

The cemetery is located at 1737 Key West Lane in the Carter’s Green neighborhood, a subdivision of single-family houses adjacent to Raglan Road Park and the Tysons Towers senior living community.

There is one identified grave with a headstone for Millie Whales Carter that’s inscribed with the date of her death on Feb. 29, 1916 and the words “Gone but not forgotten.” The cemetery also has five or more unmarked graves, per the county’s cemetery survey.

Whales Carter was a descendant of Keziah Carter, who bought 50 acres of land in 1842 that had been inhabited by her ancestors in the indigenous Tauxenent tribe until the area’s colonization. The Carter family lived on and farmed the land for decades, later expanding into what’s now the Town of Vienna, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority.

The park authority dedicated signs at nearby Freedom Hill Park in 2021 that tell some of the Carter family’s story, but the cemetery has become neglected since the Carter’s Green subdivision was built in the 1970s, Alcorn said in the board matter.

“In recent years the Carter Family Cemetery has suffered from vandalism and dumping of landscaping waste,” the board matter says. “The immediate neighbor has also expressed safety concerns over a mature tree overhanging their property.”

The wooded lot is now “overgrown and has been used as a neighborhood dump for yard debris,” according to the Fairfax Genealogical Society.

Living members of the Carter family declined to comment for now when contacted by FFXnow, stating that they hoped to meet with Alcorn before talking to media.

The park authority says the board’s vote allows it to evaluate options for the future of the Carter Family Cemetery, but the exact role that the county will play isn’t clear yet.

“We have not yet conducted an analysis of potential solutions for this specific property in advance of the board’s directive, so we are just beginning the work of seeing what avenues might be available to help preserve this site,” an FCPA spokesperson said. “We will be providing the Board of Supervisors with proposed recommendations at a future date.”

Prior to yesterday’s vote, some supervisors suggested a countywide policy may be needed to set criteria for when and how the county should get involved in cemetery preservation efforts.

A new survey of cemetery and grave sites across the county is currently underway. The park authority’s initiative is expected to continue into 2024.

“Each one is a little different, and some might be better positioned for our engagement than others, but I think having a consistent policy across the county is going to be really important to make sure from a One Fairfax perspective that all of these cemeteries are treated fairly,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said.

Photo via Fairfax County Park Authority/YouTube