This story was updated at 1 p.m. on March 7, 2014.
A colonial-era cemetery in Herndon that has been in disrepair for at least 40 years may soon be on its way toward being renovated.
According to Carol Bruce of the Herndon Historical Society, the Coleman Family Cemetery, located at 901 Locust Street, sits on property once owned by Col. John Coleman, a militia officer during the Revolutionary War who built the first house in what is now Herndon in 1776. Coleman and his family, a total of 10 to 15 people, are believed to be buried in the cemetery there.
“The home was located at what is now the intersection of Locust and Center streets,” she said. “This house was known as Eldonwood Fruit Farm, which led to the name for Elden Street, Herndon’s main thoroughfare.”
The long-neglected, nearly 250-year-old family cemetery is currently on property owned by the Jefferson Mews Condominium apartment complex, which was built in 10 phases beginning in 1974 and completed in 1976.
Letters obtained by the Fairfax County Times from the town of Herndon show that efforts to revitalize the Coleman Family Cemetery date back to at least 1975 and continued through May 2013, but that for unknown reasons, none of those efforts ever materialized.
“Records show the Coleman home was torn down in 1964 and the International Apartments were built on the site,” said historian Mary Lipsey of the Fairfax County History Commission. “The Coleman cemetery was preserved, but appears to have since been forgotten. A no trespassing sign, downed trees and thick poison ivy greet any brave visitors hoping to see the cemetery site. It is currently very difficult to even visualize a cemetery at the location. In November 2010, a few possible fieldstone grave markers were found by surveyors. The surveyors noted then that this will become a lost cemetery unless someone intervenes to protect it soon.”
The cemetery is located just behind a parking lot at Herndon Middle School, which is next to the apartment complex, but because of fences and overgrowth, the only current access is through Jefferson Mews, which does not want people cutting through. Toward that end, the apartment complex years ago erected signs stating that trespassers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“We don’t want to deny anyone access to a historical site, but we can’t allow access through our condos,” said property manager Lisa Grande. “We have had a history of vandalism, loitering and gang activity, and we just can’t have people cutting through here. In addition, we have very restrictive parking and there would be nowhere for anyone to park. Public access to the cemetery would have to be from the school side.”
Kevin Sneed, director of design and construction for Fairfax County Public Schools, said he is willing to look at a way to provide access from Herndon Middle School.
“I live in Herndon and my kids went to Herndon Middle School, but I never knew this cemetery was there,” he said. “I don’t see a problem with opening up access from the school and providing parking there for visitors. Something like this should be preserved and made into an educational opportunity for students at Herndon Middle School.”
Sneed said a similar situation occurred in 2011 when a one-room schoolhouse called the Crouch School was moved to Liberty Middle School in Clifton. “Now it is accessed and utilized educationally by that school,” he said. “I can see this cemetery being used the same way.”
Grande said that if a fence can be constructed in such a way that visitors to the historical graveyard would be prevented from going beyond it into the apartment complex, she does not foresee any problems. “We are willing, but we would want very limited access to our property,” she said.
Sneed said funding for such a fence could potentially come from a partnership among Herndon Middle School, the Town of Herndon, the Herndon Historical Society, and possibly even the county.
“I think that between the town, the historical society, the school and potentially the county, we can figure it out,” he said.
The original version of this story misspelled the name of historian Mary Lipsey.