Remains from cemetery at landfill to be relocated

June 20, 2003|by TARA REILLY

A Frederick, Md., archaeological firm soon will begin excavating 40 to 50 sets of human remains buried in the 1800s in a cemetery at the Forty West Landfill.

The Washington County Commissioners this week hired R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates Inc. for $134,976 to remove the graves at the 60-foot by 75-foot cemetery to make way for future construction at the landfill, west of Hagerstown on U.S. 40.

The known dates on the gravestones range from 1825 to 1856. The remains may be relocated to Saint Paul's Cemetery on National Pike or to Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown, county officials said.


County Deputy Chief Engineer Robert J. Slocum said Thursday the archaeological firm probably will begin early work, such as mapping out the cemetery and drafting a plan on how to carry out the excavation, in four to six weeks.

The project must be completed within 350 days after that, Slocum said.

The graves are in a heavily wooded area surrounded by trees that are 40-feet to 50-feet tall, Director of Solid Waste Robert Davenport said Wednesday.

"You wouldn't even know it unless you accidentally walked up along side it," he said.

Because the graves are so old, Davenport said it's possible the archaeological firm will not find many remains or artifacts once the excavation begins.

Regardless of whether remains are found, the graves must be dug up and moved to another location as required by the Maryland Historical Trust, Slocum said.

The archaeological firm also must make sure the remains are reinterred with as little disturbance as possible.

Some of the graves have stone markers that can no longer be read, because of their age, while other graves contain no markers, Slocum said. He said some gravestones may be so old that they look like regular stones.

"It's virtually impossible to tell what may be there that we don't have a stone for," he said. "What we may think is just a stone - it's been so long - that it may actually be a gravestone."

So far, he said, 17 stones have been positively identified as gravestones.

A 1996 archaeological report by Joseph Hopkins Associates Inc. stated the remains were mostly those of German-Americans. Most of the identified gravestones were from three families, Wachtel, Stine and Troup. None of the families was historically significant, the report states.

Emmert Stine of Williamsport, who said he has about 10 to 13 ancestors buried at the cemetery, said he thinks the county should not move the graves.

"Those people buried their mothers and their fathers there," Stine said Thursday. "That's where they wanted them to be. To me, they don't have to move that cemetery. They can let that cemetery be."

Director of Public Works Gary Rohrer has said that because the cemetery is in a depression, not moving the bodies would reduce the landfill's capacity span from 80 years to about 50 to 55 years.

Stine said the cemetery site is small, and it wouldn't make financial sense for the county to move it. He said he doesn't think leaving the cemetery there would take many years off the landfill's life expectancy.

"You can't tell me that, with all the money they're going to spend, it would be feasible," Stine said.

But if his ancestors must be moved, he said he would like them to be re-buried at Saint Paul's Cemetery, because other family members are buried there.

Rose Hill Cemetery Executive Vice President Bill Divelbiss said the South Potomac Street cemetery is willing to re-bury the remains.

If the remains are identified, Divelbiss said they would be buried in separate graves beside each other. Those that aren't identified will go in a common grave, he said.

"They don't know what they've got until they get started there," Divelbiss said.

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