The graves of American Methodist Church pioneers that lie in the path of a planned limestone quarry in the Wakefield Valley should be moved, say archaeologists who investigated the tract.
The archaeological study of a 126-acre farm on Nicodemus Road, owned in the late 1700s by early Methodist convert Andrew Poulson, is part of the permit application process for Arundel Corp., which wants to mine the property.
On the Poulson farm, Robert Strawbridge, founder of American Methodism, preached under a massive oak tree, baptized converts in a stream and led the new church's second "class meeting," a group that grew into a congregation.
Efforts to locate the family cemetery have been thwarted by the removal of the gravestones, apparently by a past owner who merged the cemetery into farm fields.
The situation sparked a controversy between local historians and Poulson family descendants and the Arundel Corp. Historians insisted graves were in the proposed quarry area and wanted to preserve the cemetery. Arundel officials were skeptical but later promised to move the remains of early converts.
Baltimore archaeologists Joseph Hopkins and Associates Inc. didn't find the graveyard, but were able to narrow its location to a 10-acre site in the area planned for quarrying.
"We went to a fair amount of effort to find it," but 10 acres is too large to dig up to pinpoint the site, said archaeologist Joseph W. Hopkins III, owner of the company.
Hopkins said mapping the location of the cemetery is important to show how 18th-century farms were laid out. But his report said the cemetery is not historically significant enough to warrant preserving at its present site.
"The Poulson family cemetery is pretty much as run-of-the-mill as any white cemetery from the late 18th and first half of the 19th century," the report said.
It said the removal of the headstones and subsequent decades of plowing left the cemetery too damaged to qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Maryland Historical Trust, which ordered the archaeological investigation, is working on a binding agreement with Arundel Corp. to cover what trust preservation officer Gary Shaffer calls "the meat and potatoes of the historic preservation law." The agreement would stipulate actions Arundel is to take, such as recording grave shafts before bodies are removed and fencing an area that contains pieces of crockery and other artifacts.
The crockery and tableware finds may give a clue to how seriously the residents took their Methodist faith, the report said. Early Methodists were nonsmokers and teetotalers.
"Not a single pipe fragment or identifiable wine bottle was recovered," the archaeologists' report said.
Shaffer said trust officials do not object to Arundel's plan to remove the bodies and rebury them elsewhere on the farm.
The quarry company has rerouted a planned relocation of the stream to avoid an area around a springhouse that may have been used as a detached kitchen.
Remains must be moved
When the graves are found, Maryland law requires that the bodies be removed and reburied under the state's attorney's supervision before the quarry operation can continue.
"Cemeteries in and of themselves are generally not considered significant under historic preservation laws" unless they contain notable architecture in mausoleums or the graves of people who can provide information on past lives," Shaffer said. "These are fairly recent and therefore the archaeological value is lessened."
Hopkins said Arundel officials have been concerned that the graves not be desecrated.
"They've done a really nice job of trying to make sure some arrangement is made that is respectful," he said.
The Strawbridge Shrine Association, which works to preserve local sites important in the birth of American Methodism, also wants to be involved in relocating the graves and arranging for the Poulson house to be available for visits by future Methodist pilgrims. But association President Daniel Hartzler said negotiations with Arundel have bogged down.
"They're very lax in responding to requests from us, and we've been very disappointed," Hartzler said.
He declined to elaborate because he considers negotiations to be still in progress, despite the slow pace.
Pub Date: 8/21/98