Lebanon Union: a 200-year-old cemetery in a colonial city…barely a dot on the map.

I can’t exactly claim to belong to some sort of refined or elite contingent when I say I’m a big fan of small, old, and neglected cemeteries; lots of people think these relics are pretty cool.  But I try my best to at least document them when I stumble across them, elevating my interest to more than a passing fancy.  In recent years, among the most intriguing ones have included a parishioner burial plot on the grounds of a longstanding and still active United Methodist Church in Arlington County (Virginia), as well as an Eastern Orthodox Cemetery that helped justify the rerouting of an interstate several extra miles, preserving the Borough of Alpha rather than plowing through it.  That said, I haven’t featured cemeteries nearly as often as I expected when I created it as one of my blog’s keywords; at this point in the Year of Our Lord 2024, only eight of my articles use it.  This one, my ninth, offers the most tucked away and overlooked cemetery I have ever written about.  I’m confident that 98% of the residents of Alexandria, Virginia aren’t aware that Lebanon Union Cemetery exists.  It’s not even among the 34 items currently featured in Alexandria’s listing in the increasingly popular site Atlas Obscura.  (Then again, among Alexandria’s Atlas Obscura listings is the hardly obscure Gadsby’s Tavern, a National Historic Landmark offering upscale dining that routinely requires reservations.)

But this Lebanon Union Cemetery cemetery really is a historical footnote, made even more remarkable because it rests a stone’s throw from a shopping plaza I visit frequently and have explored once in this blog in the last year.  In the westernmost reaches of Alexandria, in an area better known as “Lincolnia”, a service road at the Plaza at Landmark shopping center leads to a loading dock and an almost completely unused parking garage, the latter of which was my subject for that previous article.

There it is, just beyond the black chainlink fence, with interpretive signage near the right-hand edge of the property.  Since it doesn’t jump out, allow me to zoom in.

Lebanon Union Cemetery, near a cloverleaf interchange

Still nothing striking, I’ll confess.  But Lebanon Union Cemetery is certainly more distinctive and aesthetic than its immediate environs.  Pivoting to the left:

And to the right:

Just beyond the brambles and that blue clothing donation bin is the concrete jungle of an interchange between Little River Turnpike and Interstate 395, the primary limited access freeway that traverses Fairfax County, Alexandria, and Arlington County leading directly to National Mall in Washington DC.  The freeway is massive.  This panorama, with Lebanon Union Cemetery in the middle-right of the photo, further captures the nondescript setting that surrounds it.

The curved road that fronts the cemetery—distinction from the service drive that lads to the back of the shopping center—is Breckinridge Place, a 1/10 mile stub that offers access to nothing else but an Extended Stay America, hotel barely visible in the distance, before terminating at Lincolnia Road at the horizon line.

Lebanon Union Cemetery, near a cloverleaf interchange

Approaching the dirt trail, the entry gate to the cemetery’s chainlink fence is not really visible but is just a few feet to the left of all those brambles.  In fact, the worn grass indicative of a desire path isn’t really leading to the Lebanon Union Cemetery entrance; it points to a gap in the other chainlink fence that connects brave pedestrians from the Plaza at Landmark Shopping Center to a sidewalk on Little River Turnpike and that huge I-395 interchange.

Without those two brown signs hanging on the fence, Lebanon Union Cemetery would be an even greater afterthought.

Lebanon Union Cemetery, near a cloverleaf interchange

The one on the right offers rules to the cemetery in terms of legal hours of visitation, dogs, littering, alcohol use…the usual.  The sign on the left features a capsule history, which VERY loosely echoes the description on Find a Grave—the only website with any great descriptive detail.  By “very loosely”, the two narratives almost create alternative histories.  But after assembling the scraps and key episodes, it’s feasible to create a reasonably coherent chronology.

Two centuries ago, when this area was well outside Alexandria town limits, it functioned as an unincorporated country hamlet named Lebanon, and settlers founded a multipurpose meetinghouse in 1833—primarily a church and schoolhouse—and an adjacent cemetery.  Union troops, perceiving Lebanon to be a pro-Confederacy town, sacked the church after returning from the First Battle of Bull Run, often referred to as “Battle of First Manassas” in the Confederate states.  The church community reorganized at the end of the Civil War, erecting a separate chapel and schoolhouse to serve multiple denominations from around 1864 to 1866, all under the name “Lebanon Union”.  The settlement matured, its citizens renamed it “Lincolnia” in honor of the deceased president, and it earned a post office in 1870.  Fundamentally an agrarian community, Lincolnia did not grow quickly into the early twentieth century.  Rampant suburbanization after World War II, however, prompted two pivotal events: the City of Alexandria annexed land formerly belonging to Fairfax County, which included Lincolnia, and then the City expanded Little River Turnpike, prompting the vacation and demolition of the old chapel and schoolhouse.  Lebanon Union Cemetery is all that survives.

Many of the 94 graves at Lebanon Union Cemetery, as Find a Grave documents them, date from the early 20th century.  Quite a few interments took place up until the 1950s, which makes sense, given that it was apparently a viable operating church building up to that point.  The number drops off sharply, but not entirely, by the time of highway expansion in the 1960s; the most recent I can find is Louise V. Eppard Jones from 1994, who apparently chose Lebanon Union to remain in proximity to her Eppard lineage.  Perhaps most striking of all is the staggering absence of references to this cemetery from any City-sanctioned webpages: Alexandria, which maintains the cemetery, features a separate page on historic cemeteries but makes no reference to Lebanon Union, even though it includes locations of several unnamed cemeteries, or an excavation of a “skull and two leg bones”.  But not a peep about Lebanon Union Cemetery.  This sign is all it offers.

The cemetery survives a midst of morass of auto-oriented suburban development, as this map makes clear.

If I zoom in enough, Google does populate the cemetery site with a marker, but I wanted to show more of the context of that huge cloverleaf.  I’ve outlined the approximate boundaries of Lebanon Union on the aerial, which I’d estimate is a bit less than one acre in size.  Clearly the presence of the northwest cloverleaf interchange between I-395 (also known as Shirley Highway) and Little River Turnpike (which changes name to Duke Street on the opposite side of the interchange) has subsumed this tiny cemetery.  Only community outcry 60 years ago is likely to have preclude its excavation, which would have wiped it off the map like the namesake church.  It’s hard not to wonder if the interstate exit ramp received a special design sensitive to the cemetery’s presence; note how it doesn’t “flare out” the way the similar exit ramp does on the northeast corner.  But since the City that maintains it (barely—it’s scraggly and strewn with litter) can’t reference it on the website, it’s hard to imagine what’s keeping it from fading into complete obscurity beyond community contributions at Find a Grave.

Lebanon Union Cemetery

The one feature that redeems the CIty of Alexandria’s treatment (neglect) of Lebanon Union Cemetery is those two brown signs.  They look new and neat and tidy.  Apparently they didn’t exist a decade ago, when someone wrote the profile on the cemetery at Find a Grave.  And most intriguing of all: the righthand side references “Harriett [sic] Jacobs Place” which does not appear to exist.  This road name, referencing the celebrated author of the influential autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)—a popular literary tool for the abolition movement—is potentially as-of-yet unofficial renaming of Breckinridge Place.  Harriett Jacobs lived a fair part of her life, particularly during the Civil War after emancipation, in Alexandria.  Breckinridge, meanwhile, commemorates a Virginia political dynastic family, the patriarch (John) of which was a slaveowner.  Not hard to put two and two together.

At any rate, the signage is the closest Lebanon Union gets to a breath of new life.  I don’t foresee it becoming a high-profile place in the near future; no evidence exists that any remaining descendants want to be buried there.  The traffic-laden arterials and multifamily apartment buildings have effectively shoved both modern-day Lincolnia and Lebanon Union Cemetery into a dusty corner.  These latest initiatives—the signage, the street renaming, and some entity actually cleaning the place uˆ—might help earn Lebanon Union a sentence on the City of Alexandria webpage.  And who knows—maybe it’ll eventually fall under the radar of Atlas Obscura.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email

2 thoughts on “Lebanon Union: a 200-year-old cemetery in a colonial city…barely a dot on the map.

    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      You and I together probably comprise about 5% of the people who are aware of the place! Even the city of Alexandria can’t seem to muster the energy to reference it on its webpage on cemeteries and historic burial grounds.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. You are not required to sign in. Anonymous posting is just fine.

Verified by MonsterInsights