Street work takes graveyard detour

Relocation: Road repairs over a former cemetery site unearth the remains of three unknown people in Annapolis.

July 14, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

The past met the present across the way from the State House in Annapolis yesterday, as archeologists rushed to excavate the centuries-old remains of three people buried in a section of Church Circle being dug up to install water pipes.

Throughout the day, crowds gathered around a ditch a bit larger than a grave to watch as workers delicately removed the full skeletal remains of the bodies, believed to have been buried there between 1692 and 1790. City crews continued to repair and repave the road around Church Circle.

The circle served as a cemetery for St. Anne's Church from the time it was founded in 1692 until a new cemetery was built between Northwest Street and College Creek in 1790. The churchyard contains tombstones and gravestones for several 17th- and 18th-century Marylanders.

Many interments are not marked by stones, including the three discovered last week by work crews preparing to run a main waterline to the church for a sprinkler system.

"This place is probably chock-full of them," said Jim Gibb, the city's archeologist, as he stood in the ditch barefoot next to a box of recovered lower limb bones.

The dig, which is being conducted by John Milner Associates Inc., began at 4 p.m. Wednesday and should conclude today. The Alexandria, Va.-based company has been hired for a $70,000 renovation and restoration project on the church.

St. Anne's rector, the Rev. John Price, said utility crews often come across remains of bodies while digging near the church because the original cemetery stretched to the street.

The Bordley family vault, for example, was discovered in the 1980s when a hole was dug to plant a tree.

"The churchyard hasn't been significantly altered in quite a long time," Price said, adding that St. Anne's does not have records of who was buried on the property.

Rachel Killion, an assistant archeologist for Milner Associates, said the bodies were buried in coffins that have disintegrated with only some nails remaining. She said no markers or nameplates have been found to identify the remains, which are in good condition.

"This is as intact as they get," said Killion, who has conducted digs for eight years.

The remains will be examined by anthropologists before being buried again at the church's current cemetery.

One man, who was walking by, offered that the skeleton might be that of Benjamin Ogle, a Maryland governor from around 1800, whose burial site is unknown. An effort to find the grave was undertaken recently.

"That might be the governor they were looking for," the man said jokingly

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