Hidden Faces in Hidden Places

Rick Mundy Around Town

Cartersville Baptist Church Holds Honored Place in History

The little church stands unobtrusively on Hunter Mill Road just off the Dulles Toll Road. It maintains a small congregation of older parishioners, many of whom are descendants of the original members of the church.

The historical marker outside the church reads that “according to tradition free African-Americans established a religious congregation which met in private homes in this area as early as 1863. However it was in 1846, that that Bethia Fairfax, herself a  free slave, became the first documented owner of the land where the Cartersville Baptist Church would eventually stand.

Upon Fairfax’s death each child received one-seventh of the land and a daughter, Rosie Carter, lived on her land with her family and other free blacks. Construction of a church began in 1863 and in 1903, the church purchased its land from Rosie Carter for $5. She remained an active member of the church until her death in 1906 and the church bears her name today.

The church served the residents of Cartersville and nearby Woodentown as a gathering place for African-Americans of the area. They used part of the land for a cemetery, for both members and non-members. After 1927, the church became a segregated school for local African-American children until 1939, with the teacher paid by Fairfax County.

In 1939 the Colored School of Vienna opened and still exists today as Louise Archer School. At the time the community of Cartersville had to arrange transportation for their children to attend the new school. Some of the students took the train to the Hunter Mill Post Office and then walked. Some members of the current congregation attended that new school in its early years.

Over time portions of the land where the church stands were sold for new housing development resultin in the two cemeteries that now exist: one lies under the parking lot next to the church, the other, which includes the gravesite of Rosie Carter, is in the midst of a housing development. The church members were not allowed to cross the new owner’s land to visit the graves of Carter and other parishioners.

The church maintained records of those buried in each area but those records were lost in the church’s first fire in 1951. The church was rebuilt but sustained a second fire in 1972 which completely burned it to the ground. The fire occurred under suspicious circumstances which were not investigated. The church was built a third time.

Because of the historical significance of the church property there is great interest in preserving and renewing the integrity of the burial areas. Because of many years of use, largely by non-church members, the parking lot over one cemetery is in great need of repair and resurfacing. It has been used as a commuter lot because of its proximity to the toll road, and recently has been used by public works departments to park their heavy equipment while working in the area. Potholes are getting dangerously close to graves. Through the efforts of Virginia Delegate Ken Plum, some money is being given through the Virginia Department of Transportation as partial restitution, but much more is needed.

The other burial site is unmarked and overgrown and is in need of rejuvenation as well. These areas are hallowed ground and in their current condition, are not proper burial places. With some guidance from local businesses, the church is seeking support from area residents who wish to preserve the history and integrity of the area. The hope is that there can also be a renewed effort to identify the remains of the residents who were buried there.

The current congregation is just ten members so they do not have the resources themselves to undertake the renovations necessary. They hope that increased exposure will yield new interest in the church’s history. A Go Fund Me campaign has been established to provide support for these efforts. The church will also continue to run fundraising events throughout the year to continue to draw attention to their plight and encourage area residents to get involved. Go to gofundme.com and search for Cartersville Baptist Church to make your donation and watch local calendars for upcoming events.