Early Saturday morning two dozen Boy Scouts from Troop 1159 and volunteers converged on the Union of Churches Cemetery in Waterford to continue efforts to restore a once ignored burial place for the village’s Black residents.
Dating back to 1820, the cemetery near the Waterford Old School was strictly segregated, with white and Black residents buried in separate sections. While both areas have marble monuments, many graves of Black residents were marked by flat field stones or wooden markers that weathered away.
Linda Landreth, the president of the cemetery trustees, said the scouts’ work was a continuation of the decades-long effort to restore the cemetery, which had been long-ignored and completely overgrown.
In 2018, cemetery trustees brought in a company to use ground penetrating radar to locate unmarked burial plots, finding 50 in the Black section and four in the white section. Each gravesite was marked with a wooden stake and then a metal bolt hammered into place.
Saturday’s project involved the scouts finding the bolts and replacing them with marker stones.
White said the work is more meaningful that many options he considered for his eagle scout project.
“I was asking around to different places. I asked the hospital. I asked nursing homes. I was just asking for some sort of projects they needed me to do,” he said. Then his father, who volunteers at a nearby farm, passed along some connections in the village. They had some ideas for road paving or fence work. “Then they came to me with this, and it really caught my eye because it was a unique and, I feel, it was meaningful in a lot of ways,” White said.
He noted that the Quaker community in the 19th century was ahead of its times compared with other Virginia communities in that the residents were not slave holders; however, the presence segregation was evident in the cemeteries.
“What we’ve been doing is using a metal detector and finding the bolts and thing digging holes, putting down a little gavel and then some cobblestones to mark the grave,” he said. Loudoun Milling in Hamilton donated two tons of gravel for the project. White purchased the marker stones.
By the end of the day, the scouts located and marked 46 gravesites and found a buried headstone that was put back in place. They also completed a general cleanup of the grounds, raking up lots of leaves and walnuts.
White’s project was the latest by scouts at the cemetery. In 2003, Boy Scout Adam Anderson led an effort to help document and map the legible headstones. In 2020, Joshua DiStefano organized the construction of a new fence around the cemetery.
Landreth said there is still more work to do, with priority on removing large trees that have grown up in the cemetery.