Written by Robert Moser
Prince William County, Virginia is steeped in history on many levels and periods: Pre-colonial, Colonial, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Reconstruction, and the 20th Century. Due to its proximity to our nation’s capital, as we live and breathe, our residents continue to create national and world history for our descendants.
What seldom comes to the forefront, though, is the restoration and preservation of the final resting places of the individuals who spent their lives laying the groundwork that shaped and sustains our community; I’m talking about people who simply survived and provided for themselves and others around them by doing what was right and necessary. People who chose to keep their loved ones close to home and heart after their time on earth was done.
There are people who aren’t oblivious to the need to remember and respect their existence and achievements. Among them are:
Ron Turner, a historian and author who has volunteered countless hours assisting in the cataloging and digitizing of historic records and documents for Prince William County. Besides these significant and commendable accomplishments, he is also responsible for searching for and recording the GPS locations of well over 400 cemeteries in the county. Humble as he is, he will spread the credit around to others but many of us know it was he who placed ads in the local newspapers requesting that anyone with knowledge of these sites contact him, at which point he would trek to any and all parts of the county following up on leads, knocking on doors and creating relationships with residents and gaining permission to search for and confirm the existence and approximate size of the cemetery and then recording GPS readings.
Then there is David Cuff, a computer wizard who is also the current president of Historic Prince William. He is a man of many talents that range from technical to mechanical, from craftsmanship to literary, just to name a few. Since becoming associated with Historic Prince William, he has been an active participant in field work at cemeteries, as well as searching out and writing about other historic sites that tell the story of the people who lived and died in Prince William County. He has also redesigned the website for Historic Prince William. As well as overseeing and adding content to the site on assorted topics of historic value about the county, he utilized Ron Turner’s GPS coordinates to create a map of the known cemeteries that can be searched either alphabetically or by typing in the name of one. You can also simply browse the map itself, zoom in and click on the pinpoints he added with Ron Turner’s data.
Also, any mention of this topic is incomplete without Bill Olson. This man not only deserves his own article but also a book, a street, a statue, and a museum named in his honor.
There are those that once they have achieved success through their own intellect, diligence and fortitude, might sit back on their laurels to enjoy the harvest that they have sown. Not Bill Olson. He has chosen to give back to his community and fellow man, woman, and child. To list all the ways he has done and continues to do just that, I could fill volumes, therefore I will attempt to highlight just a few.
Personally, I have had the honor and privilege to learn and assist in several of his cemetery restoration and preservation projects. Among them are Greenwood Presbyterian Church, which is a cemetery off of Delaney Road in Dale City, Quantico Baptist at the intersection of Joplin and Aden Road, the French Family Cemetery within the Merrimac Wildlife Refuge, White Hall Church and Cemetery off of Aden Road, as well as the William Grayson Tomb in Woodbridge.
Currently all of us are involved in the restoration of the Tyler/Chinn Cemetery in Western Prince William that includes the graves of Benjamin Tasker Chinn, as well as his wife Edmonia and possibly other family members, founders of Ben Lomond. Also interred at this site is William Bailey Tyler, born 1799, died 1851.
I must add that during these projects, Bill Olson finds a way to incorporate Eagle Scout projects, another way he contributes to the community through mentoring the younger generation.
I’ve only scratched the surface, but to summarize, Prince William County has a rich history and there are many individuals working on and are ready to assist in preserving, interpreting and presenting it to all who are interested in finding out about it.