The farmhouse owned by Eppa and Amanda Barnes, a prominent African American couple in Prince William County more than a century ago, had been documented in history books and on Civil War-era maps.
But the house itself had been discarded, cast off in an auto parts junkyard off Dumfries Road, like the mangled, rusting cars and mounds of worn tires that surrounded it for years.
"I envision having busloads of children coming to learn the missing history of Prince William," Lillian Gaskill says.
(Margaret Thomas -- The Washington Post)
"All you could see was a roof with trees coming out of it," said Brendon Hanafin, Prince William's historic preservation manager.
Today, the Barnes House is being preserved. It is one of two abandoned buildings -- both slices of the county's African American heritage -- being salvaged with the idea of moving them to a black history park near Manassas that Prince William officials are planning.
The other building is the Lucasville School for Colored Children.
The two buildings speak of a history that stretches beyond Virginia's well-known plantations and battlefields, said Lillian Gaskill, a former head of the Prince William Historical Commission.
"I envision having busloads of children coming to learn the missing history of Prince William County," said Gaskill, 71, a native of the District who traced her family roots to Prince William. "You need to know that we did exist in the community, and we functioned like respectable colored citizens."
The rescue and planned restoration of the buildings is the latest example of Prince William's relatively recent efforts to preserve its history. Already, the county is restoring a Colonial home, two courthouses and a house that served as a hospital during the Civil War.
The first county census in 1790 counted 167 free blacks and 4,704 slaves among 11,615 residents, making blacks nearly 42 percent of the population, according to the county's African American Heritage map drawn by cartographer Eugene Scheel and printed in 2001. Today, blacks make up 19 percent of Prince William's population, according to the 2000 Census.
"Back in the old days, blacks were not encouraged to live within city limits," Scheel said. "A lot of black communities were formed just outside the town."
Lucasville was just south of Manassas and was settled by ex-slaves from nearby plantations, according to the map. The community was home to 100 people by 1880 and was the "largest Negro village in the central county," according to the map.
The school was authorized in November 1883 to serve the children of the community and opened in 1884, records show. Through the years, the school suffered from low enrollment but managed to stay afloat until 1926, when students were bused to a new school in Manassas.
Farther south, Independent Hill became home to the Barnes family. Eppa Lee Barnes and Amanda Lambert Barnes raised at least 12 children and several grandchildren in the home, and their descendants lived there until the 1960s. The house first appeared on a deed in 1870, but architectural historians have estimated that the home was built earlier.
Although the Barneses and a subsequent owner changed the house, most of it, built by area craftsmen, remained intact, Hanafin said. "You have to take off layers," he said as he smoothed his hand over the original pine siding.