In recent memory to some, the area near the Henrico County community of Quioccasin was markedly different. Portions of what is now Parham Road were Ridge Road. The most-traveled routes weren’t more than footpaths. Businesses and homes dotted the heavily wooded area.
Freed slaves still traversed the neighborhoods — some of which formed out of the same areas in which they previously toiled — and recounted stories of bondage to their children and grandchildren.
“Quioccasin has a lot of history,” said Lucy Cordell Wells, a member of the QWP Cemeteries Committee.
Although portions of those historically black communities have been swept away by redevelopment, the final resting places of those men and woman remain.
On Aug. 20, Henrico officials will unveil a roadside marker noting the historic significance of the QWP — Quioccasin, Westwood and Pryor Memorial — cemeteries. After an 11 a.m. ceremony in the Quioccasin Baptist Church fellowship hall, the sign will be installed on the westbound side of Quioccasin Road near a former Toys “R” Us store.
Henrico residents buried in the graveyards include Dr. Benjamin J. Lambert III, who served in the General Assembly for more than three decades; Tommy Edwards, a singer-songwiter whose song “It’s All in the Game” topped the charts in the 1950s; and the Rev. Paul Nichols, a pastor who also served as dean and associate professor of Christian education at Virginia Union University.
Brenda Dabney Nichols, a former teacher who wrote a book on Henrico’s black history, started the cemeteries committee in March 2013 as a way to help acknowledge the links to the past that remain in the area.
“I just thought we needed some commonality to try to work together to improve, to maintain the condition of our cemeteries, since we are a bigger family and are all up there together,” said Nichols, who represents Pryor Memorial on the six-person committee.
The committee’s efforts began with showing passers-by that the graveyards existed.
“We started with putting up a directional sign to the cemeteries,” Nichols said. “This took a year.”
After working with county officials to get the sign, the committee was encouraged to pursue a historic marker.
There are more than 60 plaques and markers throughout Henrico, according to a list on the county website. The program has been in place since the early 1990s, said Chris Gregson, the county’s manager for historic preservation and museum services.
Applicants, who must bear the cost of the marker, submit a narrative to the county’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee for vetting and approval. In general, the process from application to marker installation takes about six months, Gregson said.
“I think it’s wonderful that they’ll have a historical roadside marker,” said Patricia S. O’Bannon, the Tuckahoe District representative on the Board of Supervisors. “I’m so glad that the historical preservation committee and recreation and parks want to place this Henrico County historical marker to recognize the cemeteries’ fascinating history and legacy.”
The cemetery sites came into existence in phases over a 30-year period starting in the 1910s. In 1914, trustees of Quioccasin Baptist Church purchased an acre of land near its building for $165.
Seven years later, Westwood Baptist Church — which is on land that was annexed into Richmond — bought an acre adjoining the Quioccasin Cemetery to supplement the graveyard behind its sanctuary.
In 1943, the children of former slave Jesse Scott Pryor Sr. purchased half an acre where he and other family members were buried and named it in his honor, Nichols said.
“They’re all in the same tract of land,” she said.
Beyond the borders of that tract, development has removed nearly all traces of the area’s past. Down the road, Quioccasin Baptist Church still stands, and Jesse Senior Drive runs behind Douglas S. Freeman High School. But the active cemeteries are surrounded by an apartment complex, Parham Plaza Shopping Center and the former Toys “R” Us. Beyond it are more apartment complexes, strip malls and the Regency Square mall.
“It’s interesting to know where it is,” O’Bannon said. “Many people would never guess that the area behind the Walmart has a large cemetery.”