Manassas Journal Messenger | Officials hope to save historic black home

About 200 years ago, the Barnes family lived in their house next to what is now Va. 234, which could be the very thing that destroys the home.

The Barnes House, possibly the county’s only remnant of a post-Civil War African-American settlement, is threatened with demolition next week if county officials don’t find a means for its preservation.

The Virginia Department of Transportation owns the two-story home, now overgrown with weeds and vines.

It was once owned by Eppa Lee and Amanda Catherine Lambert Barnes and their 12 children.

Va. 234 is planned to stretch across the property and, unless it receives notice that the county will move it by Tuesday, VDOT will demolish the Barnes House.

Bob Bainbridge, planner for Prince William County, said it could one of the first homes owned by African-Americans after the Civil War that still exists in the county.

“I think that’s a part of our history that not many people know about,” said Sara Anderson, a member of the county’s Historical Commission.

Lillian Gaskill, former chair of the Historical Commission, is worried how to explain to future generations that the house was torn down for a road.

“What should the response be to an African-American student who asks, ‘What happened to the African-Americans after the war between the states? Did they not live in homes in Prince William County? Are their cultures not preserved?’ ” Gaskill asked the County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Supervisor Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large, said he’s interested in saving the house.

Supervisors directed county staff to return Tuesday — VDOT’s deadline — with a recommendation on where to put the home if it were moved out of the widened Va. 234’s path.

More importantly, staff needs to line up a way to pay for the estimated $160,000 in permanent relocation and restoration, plus about $7,600 per year to maintain the house.

“I think we can put forth the money to move it initially,” said Connaughton. “The bigger effort will be to find an individual or organization who would be interested in raising the funds to permanently restore it and make it available for public uses.”

Moving the Tidewater-style home, which has two stone fireplaces, would cost about $65,000 to a temporary location.

One possible temporary location could be in a vacant lot at the county landfill, said Connaughton, who added that moving the home is a worthy endeavor.

Gaskill said that preserving the home would be significant to depict a more complete history of Prince William County.

But County Executive Craig Gerhart warned the supervisors that, with other preservation projects in the works, the county can’t do everything.

“The preservation program is a victim of its own success,” said Gerhart. As more properties are located and interest builds in preserving them, he said, funds get tighter. “I don’t think we can do them all.”

The Lucasville School, an African-American school built in the early 1900s, is a project that already has an in-kind donation for preservation.

Pulte Homes, the builder that purchased the land where the Lucasville School now stands, proffered to move the house and stabilize it for future use, which saved the county money.

Further restoration and furnishings are estimated to cost $55,000, with an additional $7,600 per year to maintain it and provide educational programs there.

The Lucasville School is reportedly the last remaining post-Civil War school for African-American children in Prince William County.

Bushey Park, a Colonial farmhouse owned by a middle class family, is scheduled to be moved to the future Gainesville Library site.

About $18,000 of the $175,000 needed to move and restore the home has been donated. Ongoing maintenance costs would be about $4,000 per year.

The Bennett School near the City of Manassas was built in 1908, and is planned for use as a county training facility.

County staff are making efforts to put the school on the National Register of Historic Places and are debating to remove its 1935 addition.

Without the 1935 addition, the county might not be eligible for certain tax credits. About $1 million is needed to restore the four-room addition to the former agricultural school.

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