Photos by Elijah Nouvelage – The Free Lance-Star
Officials celebrate the return of a graveyard to the Little Ark Baptist Church. From left are Pastor Larry Robinson, Dave Jones of Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Trail, Supervisor Ruby Brabo, and trail owner David Brickley.
For 71 years, Little Ark Baptist Church’s property was divided by a railroad line that was built on the eve of World War II.
The government laid the tracks in 1941—down the middle of the church’s cemetery—as part of a rail line through King George County. With the addition of the line, trains were able to transport guns and barrels from shipyards in Washington for testing at the nearby Navy base in Dahlgren.
When the church property became whole again this week, during a ceremony between church officials and those who have turned the old rail line into a trail, more than 60 people gathered under shade trees to witness the event.
“I think it’s one of the greatest things that ever happened at Little Ark” said Theodore Johnson Jr., 80, a church trustee. “In other words, it’s back home.”Dave Jones led Wednesday’s ceremony, just as he has directed efforts to make the 15.7-mile path—known as the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail—a source of free recreation for King George County residents. Jones is president of the Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail.
“We are here today to right a wrong that was done to Little Ark more than 70 years ago,” Jones told the crowd. “It’s my honor—probably the honor of my lifetime—to welcome everybody to this beautiful place.”
The trail isn’t a part of the county or state system. It’s privately owned—although trail friends are trying to convince the county to endorse it so it can became part of the state network.
The trail belongs to David Brickley, a former state legislator from Woodbridge and director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation from 1998-2002.
He acknowledged that the trail friends—who have worked for seven years to cut down trees and dig up railroad ties, push back the poison ivy and put down tons of stone dust along the trail—have labored just as long to get the cemetery property back to the rightful owners.
“We’re doing something today that so many of us have worked on for so many years,” Brickley said. “It is a day to behold.”
Speakers and audience members recalled when trains lumbered along the tracks twice a day. The rail ran along the bottom of a hill behind Little Ark, which owns about 24 acres of land.
The tracks separated the church and a portion of the cemetery on one side from tombstones on the other.
The old markers remain at the top of a hill, etched with names of men such as Bismark Pryor and Virgin Brooks, born in the 19th century.
By Cathy Dyson / The Free Lance-Star – Courtesy of Fredericksburg.com