Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery


1961 N. Culpeper St., located in the Hall’s Hill/High View Park neighborhood.


Date: 1892
Historic Designation: February 20, 2021 Local Historic District

Current Use of Property: The property is a cemetery attached to a church whose congregation has been active since 1884.


Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery is one of two church-affiliated, historic African American cemeteries in the Hall’s Hill/High View Park neighborhood. It has been maintained continuously by the trustees of the affiliated church, Mount Salvation Baptist, since the congregation built its first church building on the property in 1892. The cemetery contains at least 89 burials ranging in dates from 1916 to 1974 (although it is likely burials began shortly after the congregation purchased the property in the late-19th century). The earliest known interment dates to 1916 and the last known interment was in 1974. There are at least 43 burials without grave markers, but it is unknown if any pre-date the 1916 burial. There are two other historic African American cemeteries in Arlington County that are designated as local historic districts: Lomax African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Cemetery in Green Valley and Calloway United Methodist Cemetery in Hall’s Hill. Mount Salvation would become the first Baptist cemetery to be locally designated and it is the final resting place of many influential Arlingtonians including Lucretia M. Lewis, Moses Pelham Jr., and Annie and Robert Spriggs. These families and hard working citizens created stability, safety, and a social support network for a community which sourced almost all of its services from within its boundaries during decades of segregation. Many of these people were the backbone of Arlington’s black community and are the reason that it has grown and thrived throughout history.

Lucretia and her husband William E. Lewis (b. 1873) had at least five children: Caruthus E. (b. 1900), Ebert Chauncey (b. 1904), Lester (b. 1906), Maurice J. (b. 1908), and Corusha (birth year unknown). William worked in various service positions, including as a construction stationary engineer in 1920 and as a fireman working on boilers in 1930. In 1930, Lucretia and William owned their home on Maple Avenue in Hall’s Hill (on present-day North Cameron Street), which was valued at $1,600. Lucretia had a four-year college degree and was the Financial Secretary for Purity Tent No. 184 of Hall’s Hill, which was part of the United Order of Tents. Formed in 1867 by two formerly enslaved women, the Order is a Christian Fraternal Benevolent Organization managed predominately by African American women and established to help provide shelter and support for people who were unable to care for themselves. Many parishioners were members of this historic Order, including Mary Ellen Davis, and Rosa B. Jones.  Lucretia was the great-aunt of present-day Mt. Salvation Baptist Church parishioner, Portia Haskins.

Fred Deskins married Cora Morgan and they lived at 5210 22nd Street North with their children Hazel D. Jones, Gretell Mansfield, and Stanley Deskins. He worked in  government services and in 1927, Frederick became a certified volunteer fireman with the Arlington County Fire Station #8 in Hall’s Hill, the first African American-operated fire station in the County. Fred Deskins is related to Ronald Deskins, one of the first four children to desegregate Virginia public schools when he walked into Stratford Junior High School in 1960.

Robert Spriggs moved from Richmond to Washington, D.C., following the Civil War and married into the prominent Arlingtonian Pelham family in 1874. They had at least 15 children: Samuel (b. 1874), Robert (b. 1877), Alberta (b. 1880), Willis (b. 1880), Nellie (b. 1878), Lavinia (b. 1883), Lizzie (b. 1885), James (b. 1887), Alonzo (b. 1889), Vernon (b. 1890), Elsa (b. 1892), Gertie (b. 1894), Eddie (b. 1896), Arlinzo (b. 1897), and Melvin (b. 1899).  When they passed they were survived by four daughters, six sons, 26 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren. Robert and Annie’s prolific family were involved in building up the African American community both in Arlington and afield, and their descendants continue to be prominent members of the local community including current parishioner Conte Spriggs.

History of the Congregation and Church Buildings

Information and History

Moses Pelham, Sr., was born in Culpeper, Virginia, and moved to Arlington around 1871. He bought one acre of land northeast of Hall’s Hill from Robert Phillips, and married Isabella Washington on August 5, 1874. Moses Pelham, Sr., bought the acre adjacent to his property in 1893, and upon his death it was subdivided for his six children. As his children built houses on their properties, the area was known informally as Pelham Town.

Reverend Cyrus Carter organized the Mount Salvation Baptist congregation and they began meeting at the house of Moses Pelham, Sr. On June 7, 1884, the trustees of the church (including Moses Pelham, Sr., Washington Jones, Bonaparte Moten, Harrison King, and Horace Shelton) purchased a one-acre site from Bazil and Francis Hall for $80, A written history created by church leadership states that the congregation erected a small, temporary church on the property shortly following this purchase.

Many known or church-affiliated historic African American cemeteries in the Southern United States date to the 1860s and 1870s when formerly enslaved people started establishing their own communities and churches and were legally allowed to purchase land. African American-owned funeral homes and mortuary businesses were an integral part of African American communities and provided important services that typically were not offered by businesses serving the Caucasian community prior to desegregation. Like these, Mount Salvation Baptist Church provided a fundamental intersection of faith, community, support, safety, and leadership from the very inception of Hall’s Hill for over a century.

There have been two permanent church buildings on the property. The first was a gable-end frame church constructed ca. 1892 and the second existing building was constructed in 1975 to replace the demolished 19th century church building. The earliest marked burial in the cemetery behind the church was Helen Thompson, buried July 4, 1916. However, it is likely that burials began soon after the plot was purchased and that the grave markers are no longer extant, or the graves were never marked.

In the 1940s, Reverend N.R. Richardson renovated the first permanent church property. The renovation included the addition of a stone façade to the existing frame building, lancet stained-glass windows, a lower auditorium, an electric organ, new pews, and automatic church bells. In the early-1950s the congregation, now numbering around 500, added a two-story tower to the church building.

During segregation, as demonstrated by the truncated nature of North Culpeper Street, Hall’s Hill, as well as other African American communities in the County, were designed by developers and County planners to be insular, connecting only to main roads and lacking road access into segregated white neighborhoods. African American neighborhoods were both self-contained and disconnected to other parts of the County. Under these conditions, Mount Salvation Baptist Church served as more than a religious community; for many it also was a destination for socializing and recreating. In a December 2003 interview with the Center for Local History, Idabel Jones described going to many social events at Mount Salvation Baptist Church prior to the desegregation efforts of the 1960s, including fairs in the summer and bobbing for apples at Halloween.

Between 1962 and 1967, the County not only paved North Culpeper Street for the first time, it also added sidewalks. It should be noted that the streets in the surrounding historically white neighborhoods were paved by 1953. The County connected North Culpeper Street to North Abingdon Street by 1969, increasing ease of access between the historically black neighborhood and the adjacent historically white neighborhood of Waycroft-Woodlawn.

In 1974, the church trustees applied to construct a new building on the existing parking area south of the original, renovated church. On May 13, 1974, builder E.L. Daniels applied for permits for the two-story masonry and steel framed church designed by Bryant and Bryant Architects based in Washington, D.C. The Northern Virginia Sun reported on the November 10, 1974, groundbreaking of the $20,000 modern church building. The congregation began using the new church in July 1975 and the original church was demolished that year. The mid-century church is a red brick building with a basement level for study and storage space and a main level for church services and administration. Aerial photography shows that the parking lot north of the present-day church building was paved by 1983, but that the area south of the church was not paved and used for parking until at least 1989.

Burials at Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery

Information and History

Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery has a rich assortment of grave markers of varying type, material, age, and ornamentation. It also has a collection of high value trees recognized by the County’s Urban Forester for their size, species, or other cultural interest.

It was common for African American cemeteries to have little or no formal landscaping, with native trees and shrubbery and ornamental plants or vegetation occasionally used to mark grave locations. Graves tended to be scattered instead of placed in a symmetrical arrangement with demarcated paths. Wooden coffins, marked by simple wood or stone monuments, some made or inscribed by hand, were typical, as were unmarked graves or those marked only by fieldstones placed on end. Deep depressions in the landscape may indicate the location of unmarked graves. Temporary grave markers helped ensure that the cemetery stayed available to family members who wanted to be buried with their relatives. It was common for African American cemeteries to accommodate multiple burials in one grave or plot.

Studies of mid- and late-19th century cemeteries reveal that African Americans often chose to be buried uniformly east to west, with the head to the west. Freedmen burials after the Civil War typically featured shallow graves not deeper than about four feet, with coffins and burial shrouds common. Some anthropologists have suggested that marking graves with plants may have been rooted in the African belief in the living spirit. Among the most common traditions was the placement of offerings on top of graves or grave markers. Such offerings typically were personal belongings of the deceased, ranging from pottery and dishes, shells and stones, to personal items like medicines or favorite tokens. Some theories contend that the symbolism of the offered objects is that of the body destroyed by death, or even that the selected objects guard the grave and prevent the spirits of the dead from returning to influence those still living. Additionally, research indicates that although it is likely to have several generations of a family buried in the same cemetery, it was not necessarily required for them to share a specific plot or be buried near one another.

Today, Mount Salvation Baptist Church maintains the cemetery primarily as a lawn with some noteworthy specimen trees and other plantings. Although there are no formal paths through the cemetery, most of the graves are grouped together and many of these groupings are delineated by a rectangular concrete bedstead. Church trustees have expressed a desire to discourage casual pedestrian traffic through the cemetery. The installation of a permanent fence around the cemetery would deter such activity; recommendations for appropriate fencing types are included in the accompanying proposed Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery Local Historic District Design Guidelines.

The Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery has a high degree of historic integrity as defined by the National Park Service, meeting all seven aspects of integrity: location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. Although the original associated church building was demolished and rebuilt in a different location on the lot between 1974 and 1975, the site maintains its integrity of location and setting as this change did not appear to modify either the physical boundaries or the organization of the cemetery itself. Likewise, other character defining features of the landscape such as topography, vegetation, circulation, and small-scale features (primarily grave markers), are intact and contribute to the site’s overall high level of integrity.

Designation Criteria

Designation Criteria

Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery meets Designation Criteria B, D, J, and K as listed in Section 11.3.4.A.6 of the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance:

  • B – The property has character, interest, or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the county, state, or nation. Association with: 1) post-Civil War era African American history and genealogy in Alexandria/Arlington County; and 2) history of the Hall’s Hill/High View Park neighborhood.
  • D – The property is associated with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the development of the county, state, or nation. Several influential Arlingtonians were buried at Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery, including Lucretia M. Lewis, Moses Pelham, and Annie and Robert Spriggs.
  • J – The property has the potential to yield information important to the prehistory or history of the county, state, or nation. Further genealogical study of the individuals interred at Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery and their relatives will yield information related to any possible connection to Freedman’s Village and their contributions to Hall’s Hill/High View Park specifically, Arlington’s African American heritage, and the County’s history in general. Additional study of the individual grave markers (materials, inscriptions, symbols, etc.) may reveal information about early-20th century African American and/or Baptist burial practices and traditions in Alexandria/Arlington County.
  • K – The property is suitable for preservation or restoration. The Cemetery is still maintained by the trustees of the Mount Salvation Baptist Church and descendants of several of the interred still frequent the cemetery. Many of the grave markers are legible and in sound condition, yet others are unstable, in need of repair, or are even unmarked. Preservation of the Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery by local historic district designation will guide the appropriate maintenance of the grave markers, continue to protect the site as sacred ground, and promote the importance of the cemetery to the Hall’s Hill/High View Park community and to Arlington County

The Research Process

The Research Process

Unfortunately, no systematic record of burials exists for the Mount Salvation Baptist Church. Furthermore, historic archival materials pertaining to the late-19th and first half of the 20th centuries are often unreliable, especially for communities of color. The Historic Preservation Program staff created a cursory list of potential burials by referencing the entry for the Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery in the 1985 Arlington Genealogy Club publication, written in collaboration with the National Genealogical Society, on places of burial entitled Graveyards of Arlington County, Virginia. To confirm and expand this list, staff relied on numerous primary resources including birth, marriage and death certificates, historic newspaper obituaries, and Federal census records. The HPP staff then created an individual survey form for each known grave marker in the cemetery and for all suspected unmarked graves. The survey forms include photographs and physical descriptions of the grave markers when applicable, as well as known biographical information about the deceased (e.g., names, birth and/or death dates, names of spouses and/or children, occupations, etc.). The data as presented serves two main purposes: 1) to document the existing conditions of each of the gravestones; and 2) to serve as the basis for future research about the individuals buried at Mount Salvation Baptist Cemetery.

When compiling the family narratives and completing the Burial Survey forms, staff relied heavily on archival records including birth, marriage and death records, censuses, and newspapers. There tend to be fewer reliable records of this type for people of color, especially prior to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Names in official records are often misspelled and identifying information such as birthdates and names of parents are recorded inaccurately or omitted. This makes it difficult to create a complete and accurate history of an individual’s life and family connections.

In October 2019, with permission from the trustees of the Mount Salvation Baptist Church, the HPP staff conducted ground-penetrating probing of a portion of the cemetery as part of the local historic district designation nomination process. Probing is a minimally intrusive archaeological technique used to help determine the location of underground gravestones or burials. During probing, a thin metal rod is inserted several inches into the ground at a slight angle to try to detect any abnormalities or objects in the layers of soil beneath the surface. Staff used this technique to identify potential grave markers and grave borders. Staff identified 42 points where subterranean burial-related resources are located, and which are denoted in the Current Conditions Survey as “PF” (pink flag) locations. The probing described here was preliminary

 in nature and the staff recommends that the church trustees consider hiring professional archeologists to conduct a formal cemetery survey 

with ground penetrating radar to completely and accurately identify all burial locations. Staff also created a two-page questionnaire about the cemetery that the church administrative officers distributed to the members of the congregation over the course of one month. The completed surveys showed that there are at least two additional burials at the cemetery, those of Caruthus Lewis and Ted J. Carter (also related to the Lewis family). However, the staff was unable to confirm these burials with the available archival information but included additional information for these individuals in the Burial Survey forms as part of Lucretia M. Lewis’s and William E. Lewis’s entries. Questionnaire respondents also confirmed the unmarked burials of five people that the staff identified using archival research.


More Information

Designation Report

Burial Survey(PDF, 12MB)

Design Guidelines(PDF, 3MB)

Conditions Survey(PDF, 2MB)  

LHD Boundary(PDF, 1MB)

Tree Inventory