RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmonders will now be able to explore the often-forgotten history of the Barton Heights cemeteries thanks to a new digital map project created by a local community group.
The East End Collaboratory, which consists of Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Richmond, the Friends of East End volunteer group and other community partners, helped to put together a new digital map of the historically African-American cemeteries in the Barton Heights area.
The Barton Heights Cemetery Web Explorer provides easy ways to search the cemeteries’ 330 surviving grave markers by name and date, and visitors can also find the graves by looking up nearby landmarks. Each of the remaining markers is linked to Findagrave.com, which provides further historical and biographical information.
The map also offers options for remote tours, including photographs and 3D scans of grave markers.
According to the East End Collaboratory, the goal of the project is to not only make it easier for descendants to find graves of family members, but also to bring a new side of Richmond history to light.
The history of the Barton Heights cemeteries dates back just over 200 years. According to Richmond Cemeteries, the 12-acre group of six city-owned gravesites were originally established in 1815 by the “Burying Ground Society of the Free People of Color of the City of Richmond,” who wanted better burial options for free people living in the Richmond area. By 1881, the burial site was used for thousands of burials, including for city leaders, soldiers, pastors and professors.
The cemeteries are still home to the earliest surviving African-American memorials in the Richmond region, according to the Collaboratory.
However, Loretta Tillman, a member of the Descendants Council of Greater Richmond, says that some of the history of the cemeteries has been lost due to neglect of the area.
“These six cemeteries, now combined into one, are filled with so many historic figures as well as those less well known, but who were alive during various important eras of United States history,” Tillman told VCU. “However, we now know where very few of them are. The archaeological and historical work done through the project will bring some of them back from the oblivion in which their names and histories now reside.”
The digital map was unveiled at a community event at the Richmond Main Library on E. Franklin Street on Monday, March 27. The event highlighted the map, along with student projects from VCU and the University of Richmond which highlighted African-American cemeteries and landscapes in the are.
The new Barton Heights map was modeled after a previous project completed by the East End Collaboratory, which created a digital map of Richmond’s East End Cemetery.
To learn more about the Barton Heights digital map, click here for VCU’s report on the project.