Preserving a piece of local history

The Dumfries Town Council will hold public hearings Tuesday on steps to help preserve its history while letting a tiny piece of it go.

A portion of King Street in Dumfries, which existed before 1749, is now part of the parking lot of Dumfries Elementary School.

The Prince William County School Board is asking the town to vacate the street and transfer ownership to the School Board. The request is the subject of the council’s first public hearing.

The second two public hearings relate to agreements with Historic Dumfries Virginia Inc., including forgiving a debt owed to the town and establishing a new operating agreement.

King Street is shown on a town map dated 1749, said Dumfries town historian Lee Lansing. It provides one of two accesses to a cemetery behind the school.

The main entrance to the cemetery, which dates back to 1677, is off Mine Road. Still, many use the King Street entrance and park in the school’s parking lot for funerals, said Betty Covington, principal of Dumfries Elementary School.

Dumfries Elementary was built in 1918. Some time after that its parking lot was built to include a portion of King Street.

There had been some confusion over “who’s going to maintain the road,” said George Pincince, supervisor of real property management for the Prince William County School District.

After the school district spent time and money to repair potholes and repave the parking lot — including the road — over the summer, it decided it was time to pursue gaining possession of the road, Pincince said.

“In return, we would give the town an easement,” Pincince said. The easement would legally allow cars to continue to go through the parking lot to the cemetery.

“I certainly don’t object to people going to the cemetery [through the parking lot,]” Covington said. The traffic does not cause problems to the school’s operation.

The Dumfries Town Council will decide after the public hearing if it wants to appoint three citizens to conduct a site inspection and provide a report on the School Board’s request. The council is not scheduled to vote on the request.

The council also will listen to residents’ views on whether it should forgive a debt of about $30,000 owed to it by Historic Dumfries as well as whether it should approve a new agreement concerning the operation of the Weems-Botts Museum property.

The town owns the property and the buildings. Historic Dumfries operates it, said Barry Ward, president of Historic Dumfries.

In 1997, the town borrowed money to purchase the Lockett House, a home built in the 1930s that was adjacent to the Weems-Botts house and museum. Historic Dumfries intended to use the Lockett House for storage of some of its historic collection as well as for administrative offices.

In the initial agreement, Historic Dumfries agreed to repay the town about $60,000, relying heavily on available state grants, Ward said.

In the late 1990s, grants did allow Historic Dumfries to repay the town about $30,000. The availability of those grants, however, soon dried up.

Without the grants and a failed Scottish Heritage Festival in 1999, Historic Dumfries was running into money problems, Ward said.

Historic Dumfries also discovered that the Lockett House needed a great deal more renovation then it had originally estimated.

Ward said in looking over the operating agreement or “franchise ordinance” between the town and Historic Dumfries that was written following the purchase of the Lockett house, he found it “vague.”

“It wasn’t clear as to who owned what,” Ward said. “It was time to do something about it. Let’s fix it up, clean it up and move on.”

Ward approached the town asking it to renegotiate the agreement and to forgive the debt.

While the council did agree to do both in 2000, the legal aspects were not worked out until now.

Under the new agreement, “In a nutshell, we are responsible for maintaining everything outside of the buildings and Historic Dumfries is responsible for everything inside,” said Dumfries Town Manager Ron Waller.

“This is a very positive thing [the council is] doing,” Ward said.

“I’ve been fighting for this for a long time,” said Dumfries Mayor Melvin “Mel” Bray. “[The museum] is a tourist attraction that brings people into Dumfries. They are not just passing through the town. They are stopping to visit.

“I’m in favor of anything that brings people in to visit the town,” Bray said. “Since this is not a money-maker, our best bet is to forgive the debt.”

The council will vote on the Historic Dumfries issues following the public hearings.

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. It will adjourn for the public hearings at 7:30 p.m. and reconvene its meeting following the hearings.

Staff writer Aileen M. Streng can be reached at (703) 878-8010.

Similar Posts