Family graveyard safe from road plan

Land from cemetery won't be taken to widen Guilford Road

May 31, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Over the years, the tiny family graveyard of the King and White families on Guilford Road in southern Howard County has seen its borders shrink as an asphalt plant, a business park and a state prison crowded in at its edges.

But in a rare victory of old Howard County over new, the graveyard has staved off a final encroachment.

Faced with well-organized opposition from descendants of the Whites and Kings, county engineers have scrapped plans to seize a 30-foot-wide swath of the 1-acre cemetery for a planned widening of Guilford Road. Family members said the area to be taken could contain remains of approximately 45 of their ancestors buried in the graveyard since the early 1800s.

"The county's decision is not to ask for any land acquisition from the cemetery," said Ron Lepson, chief of the county's Bureau of Engineering. "The county is sensitive to land that is very sacred to the White and King families. It's not in the public interest to alienate anyone for these types of projects."

The decision came as a pleasant surprise to family members, who were discouraged by the county's initial reluctance to consider revamping its plans to widen Guilford Road to five lanes to accommodate truck traffic. The families are planning an event to thank the county for its decision.

"We are very grateful that the county found a way to get around it," said descendant Sylvia Crutchfield of Alexandria, Va. "It looks like the cemetery will be completely spared."

At a March meeting attended by 20 family members from as far away as West Virginia, county officials said it would be costly to widen the road on its other side, in front of the Dorsey Run Business Center.

Widening in that direction would require building a retaining wall and would skew the alignment of the road farther to the south, officials said.

But, after weeks of continued negotiation with the descendants and the Coalition to Preserve Maryland Burial Sites, the county has decided to drop a lane from the widening of the stretch by the cemetery and expand in the direction of the business park, despite the higher cost of that approach.

"We decided it was in the best interest of everybody to see if we could shift the road alignment on the other side," Lepson said.

The graveyard was consecrated in 1829, about the time William Firmadge King married Elizabeth White, whose family owned a large plantation, White's Contrivance, in what is today Savage and descended from Puritans who lived at Jamestown. Among those believed to be buried there is Col. George Washington King, a veteran of the Union Army.

When the county introduced its initial plans, officials said they thought there were no remains in the swath to be taken by the widening. Descendants disagreed, saying that only 29 of the 45 graves believed to be at the site are marked, suggesting that others are in the area close to the road.

At the March meeting, county officials said they would hire an archaeologist to determine whether there were remains in the affected area.

Under state law, the county would be allowed to take land that contained graves if it paid to relocate the remains. In the end, Lepson said, the county did not search the area. The county is expected to present revised widening plans in September.

"Right now, everyone is breathing a sigh of relief," said Kristin Kraske, president of the Coalition to Preserve Maryland Burial Sites.

Crutchfield believed that the county was as daunted by the living descendants as it was by the thought of those buried in the area. Several family members told officials that they plan to be buried in the tiny graveyard when they die, and don't want to see it shrink any more than it has.

"That it's being currently used as a cemetery was a big help," she said. "People said, `I plan to be buried there. How can you take away my grave site?'"

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