Cemetery will remain a safe, peaceful place Land protected from development WEST COUNTY -- Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

February 11, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

This is a story about an old family cemetery and new construction -- with a happy ending.

There are no angry descendants, no backhoes digging up bones. Just a 75-year-old man in a wheelchair who can still travel along a path lined with forsythia and white pine to spend time with his ancestors in western Howard County.

His name is William B. Welling Jr. and his family has lived in Howard County since at least the late 1700s. A cemetery containing his great-great-great-grandfather and as many as 18 other family members sits off Trotter Road near Clarksville.

Until recently, The Rouse Co. owned the land. During that time, Mr. Welling and other family members visited the site freely. Beginning in the 1980s, they held memorial services on the last Sunday of the summer for those buried there.

But in a county that has developed rapidly in the past two decades, Mr. Welling always worried that someone might buy the land and build homes on it.

"I was concerned all the time," said Mr. Welling, a Clarksville resident who has used a wheelchair since suffering three strokes in the 1970s.

When the company decided to give the land to the county for an elementary school that opened in the fall of 1991, Mr. Welling was relieved. The company restricted the deed to the property, requiring that the cemetery remain untouched. The county built a handicapped access ramp on a sidewalk near the cemetery so Mr. Welling and others could ride up to it in a car.

"I was glad the school got it and they didn't build a bunch of town houses," Mr. Welling said. "The school is a good neighbor."

Mr. Welling is one of the lucky ones.

Last year, a developer brought up bones while digging a water and sewer line for several proposed houses around old St. Mary's Cemetery in Turf Valley Overlook. In Maryland, there is no law requiring a landowner to notify or consult with family members concerning development of burial grounds.

"The cemeteries can be moved without the family ever knowing about it," said Barbara Sieg, president of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites.

Only in the case of eminent domain, in which the state condemns and takes property, must it notify family members.

Ms. Sieg, who lives in Ellicott City, is trying to change that. She and the coalition are supporting eight bills in the General Assembly this session to protect family burial sites.

Under current law, a developer cannot disturb a burial site without getting approval from the state's attorney in that county. Two proposed bills -- Senate Bill 831 and House Bill 876 -- would require the notification of descendants before the state's attorney makes a decision, Ms. Sieg said.

Two Howard County legislators are pushing the bills in the General Assembly.

Sen. Thomas Yeager, D-13th, is sponsoring four bills in the Senate, and Del. Martin G. Madden, R-13B, is co-sponsoring four bills in the House, Ms. Sieg said.

The Welling family cemetery was established around 1800. It remained in the family until 1920, when it was sold to settle an estate.

The family rediscovered it in 1972. One of the headstones was found beneath several inches of soil. Many of the others were missing or tangled among weeds and honeysuckle.

"It was very neglected when we found it," Mr. Welling recalled.

Today, the cemetery lies amid a grove of wild cherry trees on a knoll overlooking the soccer field at the Pointers Run Elementary School. A metal railing surrounds the burial ground, which is about half the size of a basketball court.

Many of the headstones are gone. Fallen tree branches wrap around some of the remaining ones, including Major Henry Welling's (1776-1843), which bears the carved image of a weeping willow flanked by two sarcophagi.

A neighbor tends the cemetery for the family.

"He treats it likes his own yard," Mr. Welling said.

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