Dig delays Towson Circle plan Developer awaits findings at graveyard

June 14, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Downtown Towson is about to have its first archaeological dig -- thanks to a tiny family cemetery that is delaying a $25 million redevelopment project.

The long-neglected graveyard -- a resting place for the Towsons, Schmucks and Shealeys who pioneered the town -- is next to the site of a proposed 800-car parking garage that would be connected by a walkway to a rejuvenated Hutzler's building. Plans are being held up to determine whether there are human remains beyond the iron fence that surrounds the cemetery.

The project's developer, David G. Rhodes of Heritage Properties, met yesterday with Shealey descendants, preservationists and county officials to discuss the future of the little-noticed East Towson burial ground, which dates to the early 1800s.

"I can't make commitments to tenants until I know what we're dealing with," he said of the proposed Towson Circle project. His plans call for turning Hutzler's into a center of megastores and building a five-level garage next to the cemetery.

Rhodes has targeted summer 1997 for the grand opening. But if there have been burials outside the fence, his construction schedule could be blocked.

That is what the archaeological survey is expected to determine. Rhodes is donating a backhoe to the project.

Local archaeologist Kathy Lee Erlandson, who has volunteered her services, assured the group yesterday that she would be able to tell quickly whether there are signs of earlier burials through soil scrapings and a test pit.

"It can be accomplished in one hour on one afternoon," she said. "If graves are there, I will see disturbances. If they are not there, I'm going to sign off."

If there is evidence of burials, such as coffin hardware, the human remains -- which at this point are probably blocks of soil -- would be reinterred within the existing cemetery, the group decided. Although the dead might not be related to the original families, they would belong to the cemetery by right of association, Erlandson explained.

"I would assume they would be servants, slaves or someone who died nearby," she said.

Although no date has been set for the dig, Rhodes requested that work be completed by July 31 so he could proceed with leasing the four-level vacant department store that has become a white elephant over the past six years. He said several national companies have shown interest in the property, although he would not discuss their names.

"What I'm seeking is to meet the interests of the people here and also allow the project to go forward without disruption or delay," he said. "If it takes two years to do research, I won't have a project."

The three Shealey family members at yesterday's meeting tentatively agreed to the plan, which will be formalized in a legal agreement to be signed by those involved.

"We're very enthusiastic with the way things are going," said Darlene Dail of Dundalk, a great-great-granddaughter of Mary Ann Shealey, who is one of the 18 Towson relatives buried in the cemetery. "I would like to see the site preserved and the cemetery preserved as well."

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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