Darlene Tribbett reached down and touched the floor inside the little white house known as the Barnes House. The floor is original to the house, built in 1797, and was one her distant relatives walked on more than 100 years ago.
Tribbett, as well as other members of the Barnes family, members of the community and the Prince William County supervisors were on hand Saturday, May 18, to celebrate the opening of the house to the public.
Tribbett's third great-aunt, Amanda Lambert, married Eppa Barnes, a former slave who bought the house in 1899 from the family who enslaved him for about the first decade of his life.
"Not only did he buy the house that he was likely born into slavery in, he bought it from the family that once owned him," said Bill Backus, a Prince William County historian.
Tribbett first found out about the Barnes family through research she started about 15 years ago. A Washington Post article and her grandmother's oral history led her to the Barnes House.
Tribbett drove two hours from Edgewood, Maryland, and arrived an hour before the grand opening of the restored house.
"I couldn't sleep. I was so excited and worried about the traffic,” she said.
The Barnes House sat in the Independent Hill area until it moved to the Prince William County Landfill for safekeeping in 2004 when the Va. 234 widening was set to begin. The house remained at the landfill for 10 years until it was moved to its current location on the grounds of the Montclair Community Library where restoration work began.
Whenever Tribbett was in the area, before the house opened, she would stop by and look at it. She's glad the house is now open for people to see.
"I've sort of become the family historian, and I've been by here four or five times just waiting. I'm … putting the pieces together, especially in my research. I have grandchildren who live in Georgia. One day I can bring them here and teach them our history, so they can have that legacy, as well."
Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, who represents Montclair and the Potomac District, said the two-room house that started out as a tavern is small by today's standards.
"What it may lack in space, it makes up in rich history. It's a story of always showing the importance of remembering and preserving our past. It is a place that our children can come and learn about history," she said.
Seth Hendler-Voss, director of Prince William County's Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, also spoke at the opening ceremony and said the house is a little-known treasure. "This house is a gem. Like a lot of our parks and historic sites, it's a hidden gem to a lot of folks, but we're working really hard to make sure that citizens are fully aware of all the parks, recreation and cultural resources available to them."
Backus, the historian, said the house, now with one room staged as it would have appeared as a tavern in the late 1700s and early 1800s, was typical of houses in the county.
"When this building was constructed in the late 1790s, it reflected a normal house in Prince William County," Backus said.
The second room in the house is staged as a family home might have appeared.
"While there are more historic house museums in the United States than there are McDonalds, the vast majority of them are either architecturally significant mansions or were used by prominent people. Regular folks lived here throughout the history of the Barnes House. Relatively few historic house museums explore the history of the average American family," Backus said.
Jeffrey Barnes' grandmother, Florine Barnes, Eppa's and Amanda's granddaughter, was born and raised in the house. Jeffrey said he's happy that the house is at the library.
Jeffrey's daughter, Candace Barnes, said she is excited the house has been saved and refurbished.
"I think it's amazing that they're preserving something that's been through so much history and so many years. My father has told me so many stories about this house. It's nice to finally see what they've created from it," Candace Barnes said.
For more information about the Barnes House and other historic properties in the county, visit pwcgov.org/history. Call 703-792-4754 to schedule a tour of the house.
--submitted by Prince William County