Eighteen hundred candles will illuminate the site of Freedmen's Cemetery May 12 as the City gathers to rededicate the ground where 1,800 former slaves have been buried since 1864. However, as of 2004 archaeologists have been able to positively locate only 123 actual graves.
Located at the corner of Washington and Church streets, the site of the former Mobil service station, the Civil War era burial ground will eventually be converted to a memorial cemetery/park. It's use as a cemetery ceased when Congress cut back nearly all the Freedmen's Bureau's activities in 1869.
"One of the first acts by the City will be the rededication of the cemetery since it has not been treated as a cemetery since the land was sold for commercial purposes in 1946," Pamela J. Cressey, PhD, City Archeologist, told members of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force Tuesday night during their regular meeting at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy.
The 1,800 luminaries will be contained in paper bags that will be inscribed with information on those buried at the site 143 years ago, according to Cressey. Dedicating the land and creating the memorial is part of the overall Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project.
ON A LESS positive note, the Task Force was told by Kirk Kincannon, director for Alexandria Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities Department, that there is still no word from the National Park Service (NPS) as to when they intend to release their Environmental Assessment recommendation for Jones Point Park. Originally it was anticipated by mid January at the latest.
"Each month I ask them. And each month I'm told probably next month. It is beginning to reach the point of adversely impacting VDOT's plans for design and construction of the new park and its facilities," Kincannon said.
That was buttressed by Alexander Lee, community relations manager, WWB Project. "Our contractors will be finishing up with the second span in approximately 18 months. They will be vacating Jones Point Park in 2008," he said.
"It takes a minimum of seven to eight months to design the park let alone build it after the design work is complete. What we have now is a concept design not an actual engineering design," Lee emphasized.
"VDOT is obligated to design and rebuild the park. There is also the question of security and access that could be impacted by this delay," Lee said.
"If we don't get something pretty soon the park improvements could lay fallow after the bridge is completed," he said. Once the NPS releases its preferred concept design there will be public hearings and then final approval by the NPS.
Another recreation project tied to the bridge construction is the Witter Playing Fields. According to Kincannon, a public hearing on the design and development of that site, located near the Beltway and Telegraph Road, south of Duke Street, is scheduled for April 19. The exact location of the hearing is yet to be determined. "We will be issuing an announcement very shortly," Kincannon told Task Force members.
During Lee's update on various elements of bridge construction activities he emphasized the progress taking place at the Route 1/Beltway interchange. The new Route 1 bridge is expected to be complete during this summer, according to Lee.
Traffic coming off the Inner Loop onto Route 1 north no longer has to deal with a traffic signal at Route 1. A new access ramp feeds traffic directly onto Route 1 north thereby easing vehicular flow.