Pittsylvania County officials say an archaeological survey will reveal more about the old slave cemetery at the proposed Berry Hill mega park site.
There are about 200 marked gravesites in the cemetery, but more could be found upon closer examination, said Assistant County Administrator Otis Hawker. Law enforcement and officials from the Division of Game and Inland Fisheries will patrol the park, Hawker said.
“It (the cemetery) will end up being surveyed, platted and recorded,” Hawker said.
Hawker said the archaeological survey will begin in about three weeks.
The site will be fenced off and protected from looters and from damage resulting from development in the 3,400-acre park. County Administrator Dan Sleeper estimated that the cemetery covers about an acre.
The Berry Hill industrial mega park is a joint project between Pittsylvania County and Danville. Officials hope to attract large-scale industry to the property along Va. 863, or Berry Hill Road.
The county already has two other cemeteries it maintains — one behind Yates Tavern in Gretna and another at Turkeycock Mountain in Callands.
Sleeper said there may be other, similar sites at the park given its enormous size.
William Gosnell, a Dry Fork resident who has studied the area’s history, said he discovered the graveyard about a decade ago when a descendant of the Hairston homestead — the name of the old property — asked him to conduct a study of the site to find Native American and European artifacts. Gosnell declines to reveal the cemetery’s location to protect it from grave robbers and pillagers.
“It’s good that it’s gong to be protected,” Gosnell said.
Gosnell said the gravesite was part of a plantation dating back to the 1740s. An old plantation house that once stood near the graveyard was built in the 1820s. The slaves there took up the Hairston name, Gosnell said.
Cedric Hairston, a descendent of some of the slaves, said black and white individuals are buried there. To distinguish between blacks and whites carrying the Hairston name, blacks pronounced the first syllable as it was spelled, while whites pronounced their version “hahr-ston,” Hairston said.
Hairston said he knew about the cemetery for several years, but didn’t realize it was located in the proposed mega park. Hairston said he hadn’t been to the cemetery until Wednesday, but had visited the four remaining standing walls of the plantation house in 2000. The home burned down in 1988, he said. The property was once known as Oak Hill Plantation, Hairston said.
“It just makes you feel that you had a brother or sister you didn’t know about,” Hairston said of finding out about and visiting the gravesite. He said visiting the cemetery was “chilling.”
Hairston, principal at Chatham Middle School, said he appreciates Gosnell’s honesty and that the site can be used as an educational tool for the community.