The Community Foundations Makes First $25,000 Anniversary Grant to Support Historic Church Cemetery Restoration in King George
[FREDERICKSBURG, VA] In its first celebratory 25th anniversary grant, The Community Foundation has awarded $25,000 to Little Ark Baptist Church to support its “Cemetery Restoration Project.” Watch the surprise grant award reveal at Little Ark Baptist Church here.
“We are so honored to award this first $25,000 anniversary grant to Little Ark Baptist Church for their cemetery restoration project,” says Stephanie Hanchey, President of The Community Foundation Board of Governors.
“This project is as meaningful to our community as it is to the church and its congregation. We [the grant review committee] felt this project truly embodies the spirit of the foundation’s commitment to our community, to be accessible, inclusive and sustainable” says Teri McNally, Executive Director.
Little Ark Baptist Church is a historically Black church, dedicated to the preservation and upkeep of the sacred burial grounds of their ancestors, many of whom gained their freedom when Little Ark Baptist Church was established in 1876. In the 1930s, the U.S. Navy surveyed a rail line route from the RF&P railroad passing at Cool Springs near Falmouth, 28.4 miles through Stafford and King George to the station at Dahlgren. Contiguous landowners were offered to “show cause” why their land should not be condemned by eminent domain. Consideration for Little Ark Baptist Church, still a congregation of freed slaves and their descendants, was not granted.
Government land seizures related to the nearing world war directly affected the church cemetery with the building of a railroad directly through the burial site on its property. The rail routing divided the church cemetery claiming approximately 25% of the church property. In 1942, rail service commenced, and trains began to roll through the Little Ark cemetery. But the Dahlgren railroad was short lived. With improved roads and reduced load requirements to support the mission at the station, the Navy concluded operations on the railroad and the last train rolled in 1957. The railroad lay dormant, and later passed in ownership to commercial and finally, private as it is today.
Today, the railroad right-of-way is known as the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail, a recreational rail trail privately owned since 1995. Together, the rail trail property owner, trail utility right-of-way owner, contiguous property owners and Little Ark Baptist Church are uniting to restore the cemetery and give the region a valuable recreational resource.
Funding supports the restoration of this historically Black church’s cemetery to its originally constructed layout. The restoration will include proper physical buffers to support the dignified burial, visitation and maintenance requirements in perpetuity. In addition, the regional rail trail exposes users to historical and natural surroundings in King George County will be enhanced for generations to come as it progresses toward its integration with the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail system.
In the coming months, The Community Foundation will grant an additional $100,000 as it continues to celebrate 25 years of advocating for philanthropy in the Rappahannock River region. The foundation’s next funding cycle opens on September 26 and is open to animal welfare and environmental nonprofits. For more information about the foundation’s grant opportunities including its anniversary grants, please visit: https://www.cfrrr.org/apply/grant-programs/