Landfill yields more grave sites

December 17, 2003|by TARA REILLY

Workers looking for human remains at the Forty West Landfill found more than double the number of graves they anticipated, a discovery that means Washington County will pay more than double the cost to complete the project, Chief Engineer Terry McGee told the County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Excavators dug up 84 burial sites in the old 60-by-75-foot cemetery that dates back to the early 1800s. They were expecting to find 40 graves.

McGee said the graves are so old that mainly partial remains - typically crumbling bones - have been found.

"There's not a whole lot left to them," McGee said after the meeting.

Some remains might never be identified because of the age of the cemetery, he told the County Commissioners.

The county took on the project to make way for a new cell at the landfill, located off U.S. 40 west of Hagerstown.


The remains will be re-interred in separate graves at Saint Paul's Cemetery near Clear Spring, as requested by several families of those buried at the cemetery.

McGee said that because of the additional work required to complete the project, the cost has gone from $134,976 to $382,069, an increase of $247,093. He said the total may come down, because it is based on 87 burial sites rather than the 84 that were found.

He said that while "it's the right thing to do," re-burying the remains in individual graves also added to the cost increase. The remains will be placed in separate grave liners, also called burial vaults.

The remains, in the grave liners, will be buried at Saint Paul's Cemetery.

"Now I understand why this is becoming more expensive," County Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook questioned whether the county could save money by using smaller grave liners, "because what you have is probably 1/4 the size of the body," he said.

A 1996 archaeological report by Joseph Hopkins Associates Inc. stated that the remains were mostly those of German-Americans. Most of the identified gravestones were for members of the Wachtel, Stine and Troup families.

A portion of the landfill site once was the farmstead of John Wachtel, who fought in the Revolutionary War in the German Regiment. He bought the land in 1797.

The commissioners hired R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates Inc. of Frederick, Md., in June to coordinate the relocation of the cemetery. The Maryland Historical Trust required that the graves be moved.

Director of Public Works Gary Rohrer has said that not moving the graves would reduce the landfill's capacity span from 80 years to about 50 to 55 years.

Sixty-two sets of the remains found are being stored in R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates' laboratory and 22 are at Radford University. Radford physical anthropologists will do a detailed archaeological study of those remains.

The project is to be completed in July, McGee said.

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