ARLINGTON, Va. - History versus growth and development – that is the fight playing out in Arlington. It is over a small piece of land some consider sacred because several members of a historical family are believed to be buried there. These graves have been here since the mid-1800s.
“This is the Ball family,” said Arlington resident Ray Skinner. “Ballston is named after the Ball family.”
Robert Ball Sr., his wife Ann, and an infant named Alice are among the names engraved on six white marble headstones tucked away in an unexpected corner of this Ballston neighborhood.
The Central United Methodist Church, where these graves are located, is expanding and wants to move them off of its property.
“When the cemetery was turned over to the church in 1906, it was on the condition that the cemetery be preserved,” said Marymount University history professor Mark Benbow.
The thought of the family being disinterred spurred a change.org petition that has hundreds of signatures. The aim is to convince the church not to dig up the graves.
“We don't know for sure that there are people still buried here,” said Central United Methodist Church Pastor Sarah Harrison-McQueen. “So our church is proceeding with an abundance of caution.”
For a short time in 1970s, the headstones were housed inside the building during the construction of the Ballston-MU Metro station.
The pastor of the church said aerial maps show the cemetery was much larger and most of the bodies have already been moved. But local historians have a different take.
“From the research I've seen, I don't have any doubt that the bodies were not moved, that they are still there,” said Benbow.
Harrison-McQueen feels their planned project warrants the relocation of any bodies that may remain.
“So that we can build a new sanctuary, expanded preschool, more facilities to help feed the homeless and also to include a residential tower,” she said. Affordable housing will be included as well.
“It’s not much bigger than this square we're sitting on here now, so if it was on the middle of the property, I might think differently,” said Benbow. “But because it is on the edge, I do believe it should be preserved.”
While the pastor told us they don’t know whether there are bodies here, a public notice sign is alerting the community that the church has applied for a permit for the archeological removal of human remains.
The church will need permits from both the state and county to move forward.
There are a series of community meeting planned to discuss the issue.