Construction resumes after search for historic cemetery

July 03, 1995|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

The search for a historic cemetery believed to have been in the path of a road being built in Columbia Hills has turned up no evidence of an existing burial ground, so road construction can resume, a State Highway Administration spokesman says.

"We didn't find anything," Chuck Brown, the SHA spokesman, said last week. That means that SHA workers can prepare the bed for a mile-long, two-lane access road from Sybert Drive to Long Gate Parkway in Ellicott City.

The $1.3 million projectbegan last month and includes a 303-space park-and-ride facility. Columbia Hills was developed about 35 years ago by the Maryland Housing Corp.

Construction of the road through the area was halted when a concerned resident told a state engineer that the construction might disturb a cemetery that he believes is more than 100 years old.

That resident, James Robert Whitehead, who lives on South Leisure Court, found part of a tombstone marked "Arthur" near his back yard in 1973 and kept it.

He feared the state would repeat the debacle of TC county-approved construction project in 1992 in which remains were unearthed during the excavation of sewer lines at the St. Mary's Cemetery in Ellicott City.

The next year, the county passed a cemetery preservation law that requires developers to preserve burial grounds as open space and halts development immediately when remains are discovered.

In this case, the SHA halted construction work behind South Leisure Court while a team of SHA archaeologists conducted tests to determine if the cemetery actually existed in the area neighbors had claimed.

But archaeological tests of the soil didn't find evidence of a gravesite. And when an archaeologist met with a resident who remembers playing in the cemetery when he was young, the resident couldn't remember the cemetery's exact location.

"It is the belief of the archaeologist that there was a cemetery. . .but that it was destroyed during development of the community then," Mr. Brown said.

According to Ellicott City historian Joetta Cramm, an acre was given to Mary Dorsey Pue in 1815 by her son, Dr. Arthur Pue, for burial ground near their family's "Bethesda" mansion, which existed on land, now part of Columbia Hills.

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