It took a half-dozen men and women, a crane, a forklift, two pickup trucks and more than two hours to save two of Prince William County's oldest gravestones from another year of the wear and tear that was slowly transforming them into unrecognizable slabs of sandstone.
The gravestones memorialize Martin Scarlett and his son, John, two of the earliest colonial landowners in Prince William and Stafford counties. Martin Scarlett, who once served as sheriff of Stafford, was a neighbor of George Mason's. He died in 1695 and was buried in the family cemetery at Deep Hole Farm just off the Occoquan River.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Prince William County teamed up Friday to salvage the large stones, one weighing 2,000 pounds, moving them with painstaking effort from the wildlife service's refuge at Occoquan Bay about a mile south to Rippon Lodge, the oldest house standing in the county.
"It's been fantastic. This is Prince William County. This is our history we're preserving," said Marty McClevey, a national park ranger.
The two-hour move, which attracted several onlookers, including County Executive Craig S. Gerhart, was the county's latest effort to save a historical treasure. Prince William government, which has been accused of allowing the denuding of land to make way for strip malls and townhouses, has in recent years purchased Rippon Lodge, the last remaining colonial dwelling in the county, and has become the caretaker of several other sites and hired a historic preservation manager to oversee it all.
This year, the county was named a Preserve America community, a White House designation that recognizes a community's commitment to maintaining cultural heritage.
In the case of the gravestones, the county didn't go looking; the wildlife service contacted the county, said Delain Clark Fink, event coordinator for Prince William's historic preservation division.
McClevey said he did not believe that the stones could endure any more exposure to the elements. Sitting between two trees along the Occoquan River, where people are allowed to walk, the stones were targets for the weather and vandals, he said. "See the bullet holes," he said, showing a picture of Scarlett's grave marker.
Fink said the stones will likely be wrapped and kept in crates until the county builds some type of shelter and framing to protect them. The county plans to unwrap them in October for display at its annual harvest festival and ghost tours, she said.
Fink said she believed Friday was the third time the stones had been moved.
Arban and Carosi Inc., a manufacturer of architectural precast concrete near the wildlife refuge, volunteered its services for Friday's move. Workers dug about three feet into red clay to remove the stones, encasing them in crates and lifting them by crane. Using a forklift, the workers placed the stones into pickup trucks, in which they were driven to Rippon Lodge.
A history of the wildlife site says that the two stones were the only ones left after a farmer decided to use other, smaller tombstones for the foundation of a barn. After that, the two stones were thrown into the Occoquan River, where they were found and placed between the two trees at the refuge, according to McClevey and the history.
An inscription on one stone reads, "M.S. 1695. Here lyes Martin Scarelt, Gentleman." Scarlett's name was misspelled on the stone, and the name was often written with one T in documents.
As for the bodies of Scarlett and his son, nobody knows where they are, McClevey said.
"We don't know. That's the mystery of it all. We have not been able to locate them," he said.
Brendon Hanafin, chief of historic preservation for Prince William County, inspects a colonial-era tombstone at Rippon Lodge on Friday. This stone and a companion headstone will be put into a museum.