The Leesburg Town Council is advancing plans to better honor the memory of the community’s poorest residents, whose final resting place was paved over four decades ago.
In 1839, the Town of Leesburg purchased a half-acre lot just east of the town boundary to serve as a free burying ground, a cemetery for the poor, convicted criminals and those not affiliated with local churches. Over the following century, some 300 bodies were interred there.
The land, known as Potter’s Field, was included among parcels annexed into town in 1958. in the early 1980s, progress came to that crossroads, the intersection of East Market Street and Catoctin Circle, and the cemetery was largely paved over by the widening of Market Street and the development of a shopping center. A fast-food restaurant, a bank and travel lanes now cover that ground.
Archeological site work completed in 1983 identified some 300 graves. The bones of approximately 80 individuals were recovered from the site and buried together in a single plot at Union Cemetery. A granite marker honors “Unknown Citizens Reinterred from the Town of Leesburg’s Cemetery.”
In April, the staff at the Loudoun Museum brought attention to four boxes of artifacts from Potter’s Field in its possession, including human bones and teeth. The town is documenting the items and plans to inter the remains with those previously collected at Union Cemetery. Interim Director Lori Wysong said the artifacts were in boxes that were part of a long-term loan from the town after the archaeology was done in the 1980s. After finding human foot bones and teeth in one of the boxes in April, the museum consulted a forensic archaeologist and then returned the boxes to the town for research and reinterment.
It’s a part of the town’s history with which many have wrestled. For the past several years, the Thomas Balch Library Commission has been exploring ways to better tell the story of Potter’s Field and those who were buried there. The town’s Commission on Public Art, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Diversity Commission also have gotten involved with the effort to create a better memorial space and develop historical markers. Earlier this year, the Town Council approved spending $15,000 to create a new grave marker and signage.
On Tuesday, the council is expected to step up that commitment.
A new plan envisions a larger memorial area in Union Cemetery, with the town purchasing a block of cemetery plots at Union Cemetery near Rust Library. The space would be converted into a memorial, with a granite obelisk to mark the grave and benches for visitors to reflect on the memory of those buried in the pauper’s cemetery.
Executing that plan will cost another $46,000, but the Town Council appears ready to make that investment with several members calling the tribute long overdue.
The council was scheduled to vote on the appropriation Tuesday night, with some members suggesting that the final design of the memorial be subject to continued community input. Members also suggested that provisions be made to be able to add additional human remains should they be found in the future.