One of Stafford County’s chief charms is its abundance of history. One can drive a few miles in any direction and see interpretive signs, preserved sites and landmarks and highway markers. None of these things came about without the dedication and curiosity of the men and women who make sure our history is preserved. These acts are how we know about George Washington’s childhood, Pocahontas and John Smith, the first flight in Widewater, President Lincoln’s many visits to Stafford County, the tale of the amazing escape and life of Anthony Burns, and much, much more. During Preservation Month, Stafford’s Historical Commission recognizes the men and women who research and preserve our history. This year’s group will be honored at the May 21, 2019, Board of Supervisors meeting, following a special reception at 6:00 p.m. in Conference Room ABC of the George L. Gordon, Jr. Government Center, 1300 Courthouse Road, Stafford, VA 22554.
“Our lives in Stafford County are so much richer because individuals take upon the mission of telling our story,” said Anita Dodd, of the Stafford County Historical Commission. “It’s important to take the time to highlight their accomplishments on our behalf. We are supremely grateful.”
The Historical Commission established the Historical Preservation Awards in 2005 to recognize individuals, groups, organizations and businesses for their contributions to the preservation of Stafford County’s history. The honorees for 2018 are listed below.
Beate Jensen has been working for 20 years to preserve Belmont, the 18th-century property in South Stafford that was home to impressionist painter Gari Melchers. She is the Cultural Resource Manager, and her mission has been to provide a faithful representation of the 27-acre site coinciding with the period of Gari and Corinne Melcher’s residence there. Under her stewardship, and in partnership with other organizations, Jensen has safeguarded the historic integrity of the property, developed and implemented a prioritized plan for practical and appropriate restoration where needed, and provided engaging educational and interpretive experiences. She extensively researched the history of the property and its site design for restoration and improvements. She also supervises a maintenance program of tree pruning, feeding, and disease prevention, and created a wildlife habitat.
John and Cathy Harris
John and Cathy Harris are to be recognized for their preservation of the Latham-Beckhin family cemetery, located off Hartwood Road. The cemetery includes many unmarked graves, and one grave marker for Emeline J. Bechkin, who departed life on August 5, 1842, aged two years. The cemetery had been neglected and overgrown. John and Cathy Harris cleaned up the cemetery to ensure better maintenance of the site and repaired the marker for little Emeline, which had broken in half. The cemetery is on the historic Spotted Tavern Farm property, owned by the Harris family, which is protected by a conservation easement and is part of Stafford’s Purchase of Development Rights program.
Sherry Cooper and Will Shelton
Sherry Cooper is to be recognized for her research, discovery and preservation of the Staples family cemetery off Brooke Road. The cemetery is the resting place of Civil War veteran Peleg S. Staples (1844-1917), and several other family members, including children. Ms. Cooper searched records online and at the Stafford County courthouse for family members that were thought to be buried in Stafford County and her discoveries led her to the Staples cemetery. In 2018, a ceremony was held to commemorate those buried in the cemetery, and three headstones were placed to mark the sites. Will Shelton was instrumental in the preservation efforts, which included making one of the headstones and setting the three headstones for the cemetery.
Frank White and Norman Schools
Frank White and Norman Schools placed the Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Church and Cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmark Register in 2018. They also had a VDOT highway marker placed at the site. Bethlehem Primitive Baptist church and its cemetery were founded in 1870 in Stafford County by formerly enslaved African Americans under the auspices of a benevolent organization working with the Freedman’s Bureau. The church and cemetery are significant to the history and growth of the black community in the White Oak area after the Civil War and through the eras of Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil rights. The cemetery marked a turning point for African Americans who could then bury community members in sanctioned burial ground during funerals officiated by a black pastor, instead of a white one, as the law required before the Civil War.