Several months of work sit ahead of Leesburg officials before the Sycolin Cemetery will belong to the Loudoun Freedom Center.
Leesburg Town Council voted Tuesday night to initiate studies and paperwork with the county, with an aim of holding a public hearing and final vote late this year or early next year.
“It’s a more complex situation than some of us may have anticipated,” Councilman Neil Steinberg said. “This transfer will happen in due time.”
The Sycolin Cemetery serves as the final resting place of 40 to 100 formerly enslaved and free African-Americans. It’s located near Leesburg Executive Airport, just north of the First Baptist Church of Sycoline at 19976 Sycolin Road.
Late last year, Leesburg initiated a proposal requesting local groups to lease and manage the site for the town, but after pushback from the nonprofit Loudoun Freedom Center, the town agreed to grant ownership of the land to the nonprofit in February.
Loudoun Freedom Center currently cares for two other African-American burial grounds in the county.
The transfer is expected to cost the town nearly $73,000, but one expected expense—that of paying back the cost of the land to the Federal Aviation Administration—is not part of the final total. While Leesburg assumed ownership of the land with funds from the FAA in 1989, the FAA has agreed to not charge the town for its property.
To transfer the historic cemetery, Leesburg will need to arrange a $53,000 cemetery delineation study, or archaeological survey, to make sure that the current cemetery boundaries are correct and that there are no other graves in the area.
The town will then combine three plots of land to make an “outlot” of the cemetery, estimated at this time to be an area of a little more than one acre. The resulting plat will need to go to the county for study, a process expected to take three months.
The cemetery delineation study will likely happen in autumn at the earliest because it is best to wait for less ground cover, according to town officials.
“While the cost is higher than we originally expected, staff let us know that these were going to be costs that we would have incurred doing any kind of transfer,” said Councilman Tom Dunn, who has pushed for the transfer to move quickly since council voted to give the land to the Freedom Center. “I’m glad that we found a good group that is willing to keep this site up.”