Fort Eustis Cultural Resources Manager Chris McDaid directed volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 45, military personnel, and their families in cleanup activities.
five young men standing behind the WPA Cemetary sign
Boy Scout Troop 45 assisted Fort Eustis with mulching the Works Progress Administration Cemetery.

CEMML’s cultural resources team at Joint Base Langley-Eustis won a National Public Lands Day (NPLD) award for preserving Depression-era graves at Fort Eustis and increasing the local community’s awareness of history. The NPLD is the United States’ largest, single-day volunteer effort focused on public lands. Its goal is to bring together federal land managers and local communities on projects that emphasize “shared stewardship of our valued, irreplaceable natural and cultural resources.”

Since the Department of Defense joined the NPLD partnership in 1999, it has awarded nearly $2.8 million for more than 500 projects. In 2018, a team of CEMML archaeologists joined Fort Eustis military personnel and their families, local Boy Scout troops, and other members of the local community in an NPLD project to preserve a historically significant Works Progress Administration (WPA) Cemetery, increase awareness of local history, and highlight Fort Eustis’s cultural resources stewardship program .

A man pounding a wooden beam into the ground with a mallet
CEMML archaeologist Patrick Barry (shown) and Courtney Birkett assisted McDaid throughout the project.

Over eight million unemployed workers, many of them migrants, were hired by the WPA from 1933 through 1941. The Army provided much of the leadership and infrastructure for the WPA. For example, the Army built more than 1,300 work camps, including one at Fort Eustis, that utilized existing Army barracks. Even before the Great Depression began, migration within the U.S. population was substantial. A considerable number of seasonal workers, veterans, homeless, and other transients sought employment.

A newly cleaned up row of cemetary headstones laid flat in the ground.
Cemetery plots following mulching and installation of new borders by military personnel, their families, and local volunteers.

The WPA operated a camp for transient, indigent workers at Fort Eustis from December 1934 through October 1936. Camp workers maintained segregated cemeteries for those who died during that period. One cemetery includes the graves of nine African Americans, and the other includes the graves of 13 Anglo Americans.

These graves were maintained by the Army until Fort Eustis and Langley Air Force base were consolidated in 2010. Since then, maintenance of the cemeteries has been minimal. The NPLD project enabled military and community volunteers to weed and mulch the cemetery, install a new wooden border around the upper plot, prune vegetation, and reduce the likelihood of erosion.

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